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Flower Child

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There were flowers in the hospital room when Tony Stark was born.

A tiny thing; he was underweight, born too early and crying too loudly. His father, away on business that was too important to miss, had ended the call when the little boy’s cries had gotten too loud. Said it had hurt his ears too much.

(Throughout his life, that would be a constant. Too much of this, too much of that. He was a boy overflowing with everything and anything, and it was something not many could handle.)

His mother, Maria, held him in shaking arms, tried to soothe him as he bawled. She was sweaty and tired and alone, and she looked down at her creation with a little bit of fear. She already knew she would be raising him alone. The nurses rubbed him down, got him breathing properly, and still he cried. Maria stopped being able to hold him; she passed out from the exhaustion, and the tiny little baby went into the nurses steady arms, where she rocked him to and fro, steady, comforting, experienced. Tony still wailed.

Then they rocked him in the direction of the windowsill, and suddenly, the little boy’s cries died down.

Taking what she could get, the nurse drew nearer, showing him the concrete city below them and wondering if the lights were what fascinated him. But she watched his gaze- still unfocused and interspersed with rapid blinks- and it didn't watch the twinkling streetlamps, or the rush of cars.

The simple jug of red carnations, four of them, sat daintily tucked away in the corner of the window. His eyes never once moved from their soft crimson glow- not until he fell to sleep, for the first time in his short life.

No-one remembered that fact the next day. There was no reason to.

But it was the first thing Tony Stark ever saw. And he did not forget.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Tony stark was eight months old, and just learning to walk.

‘That boy is special’ everyone said to Howard, their eyes wide and hungry as they pointed to him. ‘So advanced for his age. Eight months, and he can already say full words! And he's even walking! He'll be brilliant, Howard, just watch.’

Tony didn’t see his father much. He was a big shadow that occasionally hung near him. He rarely spoke like the woman did, the one called Maria. She uttered words to him sometimes, and they were soft, but full of nothingness. They rolled off her tongue- funny sounding ‘r’s that didn’t match what everyone else spoke, and Tony laughed and clapped his hands at the lilt of it, repeating when he could.

But Maria was lying in the garden on a chair, asleep, and Tony was bored. There were beautiful colors, all over the place, and he wanted to see them. Properly see them.

His chubby ankles sometimes faltered, but he was learning how to walk, and move around. It was easy, really. Like crawling, but with half the support. He toddled down the slope, holding onto branches as he moved down. Sometimes it got steep, but he didn’t mind. He went slowly, following the colours.

The ground evened out, and Tony smiled.

Splashes of yellow filled his vision. They were huge, double, triple his size, and they pointed toward the bright light in the sky. Their dark centres looked like eyes- that was, if people only had one eye- and Tony laughed loudly at that thought, clapping his hands together to make the special sound. When he turned, he saw purple carpeting the floor, their vines growing over the roots of the huge trees like a rug, and Tony got down to his knees to look closer. He picked a purple patch up, and saw the pretty way that it curled and flowed. It was beautiful.

“ANTHONY!” Someone yelled his name, and Tony looked up, confused when he saw Jarvis from up above him, looking down with a bad look on his face. “ANTHONY, HOW ON EARTH DID YOU GET DOWN THERE!”

He blinked. He wasn’t sure what Jarvis meant- all he’d been doing was following the colors.

“Good heavens,” Jarvis was muttering sullenly as he stumbled down the rocks and held on to the same branches that Tony had, until jumping to the ground next to Tony and picking him up. “Does Maria even watch you at all? You mustn’t go down the rockery, Tony, it’s too steep- the rocks might hurt you.”

In his haste to lift Tony off the ground, however, he ended up dropping the purple patch that he’d held in his fingers. His eyes widened in sadness, and he started to wail, pointing at the little purple blob that was now lying on the ground next to Jarvis’ feet.

“What is- oh, did you drop your flower?” Jarvis looked down to where Tony was pointing, and he smiled fondly, bending down to pick it up and hand it back. Tony took it slowly, making sure to tighten his fist this time, and he felt his sadness die down. “There you go, Tony. No need for tears. There are plenty of these flowers to go around.”

Flower, his mind threw at him, Jarvis had said it twice. Is that what this was?

“Fuh… fuwer?” He asked, looking up to Jarvis in curiosity and then holding up the purple.

The other man smiled- he always did, when Tony spoke. “Yes, Tony. That’s a flower. A bellflower, actually.” Tony watched his mouth as he moved, and the way that his lips said the word. He’d known he’d gotten it wrong, the first time around, so he said it again. And again and again and again- all the way back up the rockery as Jarvis carried him, right up until when he was plopped back down next to Maria’s feet, when he finally said the word in the right way, which made Jarvis laugh and tell him he was a clever boy.

Flower, he thought, looking at the purple object tucked into his fingers. He liked that.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Tony Stark was four, and everyone told him that he was going to be a genius.

Numbers filled his head a lot. They were loud, and he wrote them down sometimes, until they made sense and quietened. He’d created a circuit board, because his dad had brought around men with cameras and told him to, and Tony had thought that maybe if he did, then daddy might smile at him more.

He didn’t. If anything, he smiled less. Called him things in a voice that sounded nasty, and then slammed his office door shut before Tony could ask if he wanted to play.

People patted him on the head and told him he was going to change the world. Men in suits looked him over and nodded approvingly, and they said that he would make a fine SI leader, whatever that meant. Tony didn’t know. He just knew that he didn’t want to look like them. There were no colors there. They were black and white and boring. He liked rainbows- but he was never really allowed to wear them, which was sad. His nanny dressed him in clothes that were too tight, but he didn’t really have a choice.

As soon as they’d finished dressing him, he’d go down the stairs, toddle into the kitchen, find Jarvis or Ana and then ask if he could play outside. Sometimes in the winter they said no, because it was too cold. But usually, they agreed.

And then off he would go, to methodically ruin each garment of boring brown clothing, until it was stained with the green of the grass or the juice of the raspberries.

He could make circuit boards, yes, and they were fun and really cool to do. Tony loved to watch his brain bring something into life, to make it move and work and obey him. 
But he could also hold all the flowers in his hands now, too, and he liked that almost as much. Ana had taught him how to make flower chains and crowns one summer evening, and Tony had put it to memory in the same way he’d burned every valuable piece of information into the back of his mind. Flower chains were the best. They were strings of colors and magic, woven together to fit like a blanket. He’d spent hours perfecting the art, making piles and piles of chains and pretty much stripping his garden bare- but that was only one patch, and their mansion was huge. No one would miss them.

“Hello, kid,” one of the gardeners said one day, and Tony looked up from his careful crafting, blinking at the scruffy looking man who held a huge pair of scissors in his hand. “You havin’ fun there?”

He nodded. “Yes,” he frowned, and then held up a lilac flower that looked like a very big, purple daisy. “What sort of flower is this, please?”

The man laughed, getting to his knees until he was level with Tony. His eyes narrowed as he did a full inspection of the small flower that rested in Tony’s open palm. Tony appreciated his thoroughness- always useful in a scientific investigation, that’s what his daddy always said.

“Well, if my knowledge serves correctly, then that is an Aster,” he declared in the end, “it’s a part of the daisy family.”

Tony grinned. “I knew it was! It looked like a daisy, but then it wasn’t a daisy because it was purple, and I didn’t get it. But now I do!” He giggled, and then tucked the pretty flower behind his ear. He wanted to keep it and show Ana.

The man smiled fondly. “Looks very pretty on ya’,” he said, nodding sagely as Tony began to toddle off in the direction of the patch of little white daisies that he knew lived on the lawn. He thought it would be interesting to compare them and see their differences. It made him happy.

Later that day though, when he came back inside, his daddy took one look at him and then his face fell into something bad. That didn’t make Tony happy at all.

“What is in your hair, boy?” Dad hissed, stepping forward and stretching out a hand. Before Tony even knew what was going on, he’d yanked the flower roughly from behind his ear. Tony stumbled backward, and his head hit the wall, which hurt.

His daddy looked at the flower, and then over to Tony. Then his lips pursed, he shook his head, and crushed it between his fingers.

“Don’t be a fucking fairy, Tony,” his daddy told him sternly, “boys don’t play with flowers.”

Tony blinked, feeling the tears pool at his eyes. But he didn’t cry. Crying only got him weary sighs from his mommy and more anger from his dad. He knew crying was bad.

He turned away and said nothing, instead.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Tony Stark was 10, and they sent him away to boarding school.

 

He was a year early, because he was smart and he was also pretty sure Howard just wanted him to go away. His mom tried to fight it, at first, but Howard screamed at her and eventually she just sighed and told Tony it was for the best.

“You’re very clever, darling,” she told him softly, a perfectly manicured hand stroking through his hair, “this is going to be the best place for you to learn everything you have to.”

Tony cried, that night. Howard sneered at him and told him to grow up and deal with it like a man, because that’s what he always told Tony. Maria, as usual, just sighed. But this time, the tears were a lot harder to stop, because he wasn’t brave enough to hold them back.

Jarvis found him in the garden, because he always went to the garden when he was sad. There was peace amongst the colours, Tony had discovered that a long time ago.

The older man sat down gently next to Tony’s side, but Tony didn’t look up. He focused on slipping the nail of his thumb through the stem of the daisy, because you had to have steady hands if you were going to do it right-

“Tony,” Jarvis said, with his soft voice so full of sadness, and Tony couldn’t stand it, that was the only emotion he ever heard in his house when Jarvis and Ana weren’t around, except now it seemed even his butler had been infected with the disease. “Tony, my love, I know that you may- you may not like this decision… but I’m sure that it will turn out right as rain in the end.”

Tony was ten, but he knew a lie when he heard one. He also knew that sometimes, it was just easier to pretend like he didn’t.

“I know,” the false words fell off his tongue slowly, at the same pace as his tears, but still he focused on the small, delicate daisies in front of him. He didn’t want to look up and see Jarvis’ face. He wasn’t quite sure what he would see on there. “I’m just-“ don’t say scared, you’re a man, you’re not scared, that’s weak.

“I know, Tony,” Jarvis said, because he always knew. “But I promise, you will get used to it as fast as anything. It’s just scary because it’s new. And that’s okay. New things are always very scary. When I first took this job, many years ago now, I was terrified! But it all worked out well in the end, didn’t it?”

Tony smiled wetly, nodding. He felt Jarvis turn a little to face him better, and then slowly pick at a few of the daisy stems that ran along the grass. Had it been any other occasion, Jarvis would have scolded him about the late hour and told him to get to bed immediately- but it wasn’t any other occasion.

“This is a lovely thing, you do,” Jarvis told him quietly, as he inspected the work in Tony’s hands. “I bet you’re going to miss this garden the most, won’t you?”

Tony didn’t even have the strength to lie and say it would be his mother or father he missed the most: he just nodded. “It helps quiet my brain, looking at them.”

Jarvis was silent for a moment, before his hand patted Tony’s shoulder. “Wherever you go in the world, there will always be flowers that follow you. Nature finds a way even in the most extreme conditions. You’ve seen the weeds that grow in the street-cracks of New York. There are cacti in the Sahara, there are even flowers that grow in the arctic.” Jarvis leaned closer, and his hands were rough as they stroked through Tony’s curls. “They will follow you, and they will keep you safe. Wherever you go.”

 

The following morning, when all of Tony’s clothes and bags were packed and the car was out on the front, ready to drive him off to boarding school, Jarvis knelt down and handed him a strange-looking box. Tony took it curiously, inspecting the strange cardboard slats that were piled atop one another, and screwed together with metal bolts on each corner.

“It’s called a flower press,” Jarvis explained, with a voice more fond than Howard or Maria’s ever was. “You can save all the flowers you think are prettiest, and keep them pristine forever. I’ve put a few from the garden in there already, so you can take a little piece of it along with you. Sound good?”

Tony blinked down at it, and then threw himself into Jarvis’ chest, his small arms wrapping so tightly around the butler’s neck that he thought he would never be able to let go.

That was the first time in three years that he felt someone kiss him on the forehead.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Tony Stark was twelve, and bleeding profusely in his bedroom dorm.

His nose felt like it was broken. His ribs hurt. He couldn’t open his eye very well, and his lip was bleeding all over the pillow upon which his tiny frame was curled up on.

He knew he shouldn’t have opened the fucking flower press around the older boys.

He thought he’d been alone. He really, truly had. They were all supposed to be at dinner together, because no one ever came up at dinner. That was pretty much the only time Tony got to be alone- although he wasn’t sleeping so much these days, which meant that he sometimes went out and wandered through the courtyard in the dead of night, when the rest of the world was asleep.

He’d been sat on his bed, and there was a single rose that he’d plucked from his teacher’s classroom in front of him, ready to be pressed meticulously, preserved forever. Tony had been excited. The process was so soothing to him, and sometimes he sent Jarvis and Ana letters with the borders covered in small, beautifully flat flowers.

Not this time, though. And not ever again, he thought miserably, as he looked over to the trashcan where his now utterly wrecked flower press lay.

They’d called him a lot of names. They’d said he was a queer, and he was a pussy, a sissy, a girl. Then they’d punched him in the face so hard that he’d only been able to see white, and ripped the press from his hands.

At various points in his life, Tony had been told things along the same lines. He’d seen it in the frown on his mother’s face, felt it in the harshness of Howard’s words. For some reason, there was something wrong with liking flowers. For the life of him, Tony had never been able to figure out what.

He got it now, though. Flowers meant you were weak. Flowers were a sign of peace, and the world was not peaceful. Boys weren’t supposed to be peaceful. That’s why there was blood on his shirt and a fierce, heartwrenching fury sat underneath his sternum.

Fine. He didn’t want to be soft. He wasn’t a sissy. He was a Stark, and Starks were made of iron.

 

Tony Stark was twelve, and he sat up, wiped the blood off his face, and decided that he was never going to bother with flowers again.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

“Morning, Tony.”

From his paper, Steve looked up at him and smiled tiredly. His hair was a mess, tangled all over his forehead, and dark bags under his eyes suggested that he hadn’t had the best night’s sleep in the world.

He still looked beautiful. Tony thought he looked beautiful every morning, every day, ever since Steve had moved in. Tony never said it, of course- he wasn’t stupid enough to ruin one of the best friendships he’d ever had over a stupid crush- but that didn’t stop the same thoughts popping into his head, every morning, without fail.

“Morning Cap,” he said nonchalantly, opening up the breadbin and pulling out a bagel, “what’s the news looking like today?”

“Seen better,” Steve answered with a sigh, “Doom’s stirring up the political strain in Latveria. Oh, and apparently Justin Hammer’s escaped containment. Again.”

“Wonderful,” Tony looked over to him and smiled, and Steve returned it easily, “I always love dealing with a bit of that cold war tension on a Sunday morning. Invigorating.”

That made Steve laugh. It was a lovely, deep thing. “Oh, and Pepper stopped by. She says that you need to see to the Moscow people in the next two days, or she’s taking your eye out with a Louboutin.”

“That seems rather violent.”

Steve just shrugged. “If Pepper’s becoming violent, I figure you’ve earned it.”

Tony tsked, and then smacked Steve over the back of the head as he passed him by. This easy banter was what had made his mornings one of the best part of the day. They tended to get busy after about 11- what with SHIELD and avenging and SI and generally just existing, time was very thin, and it was hard to just have any of it with Steve. But the mornings- that was just for them. No one else got up this early, after all. Natasha point blank refused to be conscious during any point before the clock got to double digits, Bruce slept with Thor, which meant that lie-ins were a necessity for the God and therefore the scientist too, and Clint was just plain lazy. If no one else was visiting, then more often than not it would just be Tony and Steve, sat talking in the kitchen until 10 or 11.

Tony loved that. More than he would ever dare let on.

“What’s your day looking like, shellhead?” Steve was looking at him fondly as Tony sat down with his bagel, and he slid the cream cheese over from his side of the table to Tony’s absent-mindedly, eyes still on Tony as he grinned. “Apart from death by Louboutin, of course.”

“Uh- well actually, apart from dealing with the Moscow people, which I can do on the phone and will take about two hours, tops, I don’t… I think my day is free,” Tony gasped dramatically, pulling out his phone and double checking, because it was more often than not that he simply forgot he had dates penciled in, which tended to make people rather angry. However, when he checked his calendar, it came up clean. And then when JARVIS confirmed, Tony’s eyes widened, and he turned to Steve. “Well. Would you look at that? I can relax.”

“Relaxing? In this environment?” Steve snorted. “I don’t think so.”

They made smalltalk for the next half an hour or so, simply letting the early November sun rise slowly over them. Tony was drawn to the colors that Steve threw off in the sunlight: the golden glow from his hair, the way that there were tiny flecks of green in the iris of his eye. Steve often said there was nothing particularly outstanding about him- that his eyes were boring, his hair was boring, his face was indefinable. 
Tony could never disagree with something more.

When Steve smiled, it lit up the entire room. Sometimes he laughed so hard that he snorted a bit, and Tony thought it was the most endearing thing in the world. His eyes were the opposite of boring- they were blue as the midday sky, but like Tony had said, there was grass-green spattered amongst them like blades on a field, and Tony was sometimes so transfixed by it that he could hardly look away.

Steve was… colorful. Tony had always thought that, ever since he’d been a child looking at the man’s posters on his wall. He was full of the color of life.

Calla lily, his mind threw at him suddenly, and he blinked. He supposed it was true. The lilies represented resurrection, purity, and life. That was… Steve Rogers summed up, really.

But he wasn’t going to compare a man to a stupid flower. ‘Don’t be a fairy,’ the words of his dead father hissed at him. He shook his head.

Stupid.

“-Tony?” He blinked again, pulling himself from his own thoughts in order to look at Steve, who was watching him over the rim of his paper. “Did you catch that, or were you in your own world?”

Tony smiled. “Own world. Sorry. Go on.”

Steve put down the paper, folding it neatly, date upward, because he always did that. Like someone else might come and pick it up- which no one ever did, because Steve was the only one who still read a physical copy. “I was saying that we should do something today. I’m free too.”

Tony was caught momentarily, in the progress that they’d made together. Their first meeting had gone less than smoothly- their time in the helicarrier had ended up in them very nearly coming to blows, and then after the Battle of New York they were only very tentative colleagues. But then when Steve had come back from his trip around America, looking for a place to stay that wasn’t a barracks for once, Tony had thought what the hell? Wasn’t like he’d had anything to lose, and he’d built a room for Steve anyway.

Best decision of his life, really. Steve was… Steve was something else, as Tony had found out pretty soon enough.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” he said hurriedly, realizing that he’d almost slipped into his own thoughts again. Steve never seemed to take offense to that, though. Whenever Tony did it, he just… smiled. Like it was amusing. Certainly made a warm change to the annoyance that tended to mar everyone else’s features when he did that. “Let’s go out. Sometime after twelve? I’ll be finished with my phone calls by then, so the rest of the day I can spend entirely on you.”

Steve froze, just for a moment, and Tony’s brain caught up with his mouth as he realized the connotations of his words. But before he could open his mouth to try and water-down the depth behind them, Steve smiled at him again. “Yeah. I’d like that,” he said, a genuineness to his voice that Tony would never be able to get over. He never hid things. He told Tony there wasn’t much point. And for a man who’d lost ninety years to a coma, Tony sort of got that. To Steve, he lived every day like his last. Never knew what tomorrow would bring, after all. “I’d like that a lot, Tony.”

He nodded, standing up and then grabbing his and Steve’s now-empty plates, carrying them over to the dishwasher behind Steve. “Perfect,” he said, “where’d you wanna go?”

Steve shrugged. “I mean there’s… but you wouldn’t like it, so, uh- we could go to a d-“

“Hey, wait, what is it I wouldn’t like?” Tony stood behind Steve, his back to the counter, and folded his arms. Steve turned to him and rolled his eyes as soon as he saw the stubborn stance. “I like everything. You know me. I’m Mr. Jolly.”

“We took you to a basketball game and you complained for the entirety of the match. Clint counted the ratio of minutes to complaints.”

“Yes, but I was sick and also I’d slept too much,” Tony pouted, “you know that makes me cranky, Rogers. Just tell me what it is you wanna do.” I don’t think I could complain about anything if I was doing it with you.

Steve paused, biting his lip. “Uh. Don’t laugh. But there’s… there’s this flower exhibit happening today, at the Botanical Gardens? It looks… it looks nice. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while now. I just thought… but like I said, that’s not your pace and I understand that, so it’s fine.”

Tony froze where he was, eyes widening a fraction. He felt the strange urge to defend himself, despite the fact that it wasn’t even him who had suggested it in the first place. It was Steve. Steve wanted to go and… look at flowers. Captain America wanted to go and look at stupid flowers.

“Isn’t it a bit…” Tony spluttered, trying to think of a way to explain quite what he was feeling just then. Because all his life, Howard had informed him just what Captain America would think of Tony’s so-called ‘sissy’ tendencies, and how ashamed he would be of Tony. And yet here they were. Captain America and Tony Stark. And it was Steve who was the one asking to visit a flower show. “I mean, just thought it wouldn’t exactly have been your thing, that’s all. You know. What with you being…” He waved a jerky hand, “you, and everything.”

Steve’s back straightened a little, and Tony felt himself cringe. A straightened spine was never good. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He challenged with a frown.

“No, I just- never mind,” Tony shook his head, trying to find a way to get back on top of this conversation. Steve’s words had completely thrown him for a loop, but Tony was nothing if not adaptable. “I’d actually like to go. I- uh, I heard about it. It sounds cool.”

Steve made a face at him, and Tony raised his hands. “What? It does, I’m serious!”

“Sure, Tony,” Steve rolled his eyes fondly, but stood up and grinned. “But you’ve said yes now, so I’m holding you to it. If you really don’t like it, we can always go somewhere else. I’d just like to check it out.”

Tony looked up at him; at his warm, open face, his green-flecked eyes and soft golden hair, and thought- not for the first time- about how hopelessly in love with Steve Rogers he was. “I’m sure I will be able to pull myself through the torture,” he responded, voice softer than what he’d been aiming for.

Steve bumped his shoulders with Tony’s as he passed by, and it was barely anything- but it was still enough. Because it was Steve, and anything Steve gave Tony was enough.

When the other man left the room, it took a while for the information to sink properly into Tony’s mind. When it did, though, he felt his heart constrict to almost painfully tight levels, and suddenly it was almost as if there was not enough room in the air.

It had been… Jesus, probably years since he’d had anything to do or otherwise acknowledged his ridiculous passion. It had been something he was so used to tamping down and ignoring by now, he rarely even thought of it any more. His brain pushed the colors away, replaced them with an offhand comment or an equation, something better, something useful.

‘You’re a fucking queer, playing with those roses like some stupid girl,’ the memory of Elliot- one of the oldest boys who’d been in Tony’s dorm with him when he’d been at boarding school- spoke up in his mind, still as poisonous and cutting as the very first time Tony had heard it, and more hurtful than the following kick to the stomach.

He shook his head, gripping the table just that little bit tighter as he pushed the memories back. Because that’s all they were now: memories. Echoes of yet another shitty period in his life.

This was just a day out with Steve, because Steve must have seen it in his morning paper one day and decided that it would be neat to look at. Hell; Tony didn’t even have to act as if he was enjoying it either- it wasn’t as if Steve was expecting anything more than sullen acknowledgment from him anyway. Tony could just nod and pass over it like he did with everything else. It was fine. He was an adult now. His father’s words, his classmate’s jeers, none of that could touch him anymore.

He slid on his sunglasses and swallowed. It was fine. It was all going to be okay. They were just leaves and petals and colors. Biology. Science. Simple.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

What he did not factor into his simple science, however, was the enigma of Steve Rogers.

Tony hadn’t intended to invest himself in any of this. He truly hadn’t. These were the passions of a naïve boy, not a battle-weary man. Stark men are made of iron, not petals. It was what he reminded himself every time he wanted to stop and stare at the flowers on Pepper’s desk, or talk with the florist about the latest batch of Astilbe that he’d seen in her window.

But then Steve had seen the simplest little row of daffodils, right at the very beginning of the exhibition, and his expression just melted around the edges and his lips had curved up and his eyes had turned butter-soft, and suddenly Tony realized how much harder it was going to be to restrain himself now.

It had been a problem of a lifetime, Tony’s inherent desire to impress. Now, more than ever, it was going to come back around and bite him in the ass.

“Oh, they’re so pretty,” Steve said, looking at the rows upon rows of them that lined the open corridor they were wandering through. “My ma always used to love daffodils.”

Creativity, perception, remembrance and memory, Tony thought but didn’t say. Huh. He supposed, again, that that was pretty fitting for Steve. “My mother always used to be a sucker for a good rose,” he declared, as he pressed his shades higher up into the bridge of his nose so no-one could see the look in his eyes. That, at the very least, was somewhat true. She’d thought they were majestic, and she’d always kept a bouquet of them somewhere around the kitchen.

(Or at least, until Howard had gotten angry one night and thrown the vase across the room.

Anyway.)

Tony had looked at them as a boy and known that they were supposed to be a symbol of love and romance. But the problem was that Maria never watered them- she was absent-minded on the best of days, and flat out careless on her worse. And although the aesthetic value was high and the social status they boasted very obvious, once Maria had kept them for a few days, the roses became someone else’s problem. She quickly got bored, and of course, it wasn’t like Howard would ever pick up the job of caring for them. And so as a result, they tended to wither quickly, their leaves browning and stems wilting, until the cleaners came and finally took them away at the end of the week.

Tony had looked at them as a child, and only seen a metaphor.

 

He pushed his sunglasses higher up his nose and continued down the path.

 

The crowds were fairly large for a Sunday, but neither of them minded. They were New Yorkers, after all, and weaving through crowds was a thing coded into their DNA. Of course, said weaving was made harder by Steve’s strange enthusiasm- he tended to grab Tony’s hand and just pull, hoping that people would move out of the way so that he could go and show Tony the new flower he’d spotted.

“Look at these ones, aren’t they beautiful?” Steve’s voice was quiet with happiness, and he looked to Tony like an excited child, desperate for their enthusiasm to be mirrored by someone else.

And Jesus- who the hell was Tony to deny Steve of that?

“They’re Hydrangeas,” Tony told him with a smile, looking down at them and running his fingers through the delicate petals. “They originate from Asia, I think. Supposed to represent either sincerity and kindness or narcissism, depending on who you ask.”

Steve paused, and then turned to him in confusion. A myriad of expressions ran across his face, as if he was working through something in his head. Tony continued to look at him, firm. After all, Steve had been the one who’d brought him here. He couldn’t exactly laugh at the fact that Tony knew his shit. If push came to shove, he could just pin it down to his genius IQ and move on anyw-

“We should get a Hydrangea for you,” Steve said through a soft smile, and Tony paused his inner monologue, looking at Steve in confusion. When Steve saw the look on Tony’s face, he quickly clarified: “because people… well, they think a lot of very- very different things about you, y’know? Loads of people think you’re narcissistic and bad, and I mean, well, you think you’re narcissistic and bad- but then if you asked any of your friends, they’d say…” Steve paused, his cheeks suddenly going slightly pink. “Well. They’d say how sincere and, um, kind you are. So.”

Tony watched as Steve grew slowly pinker, but continued to look Tony stubbornly in the eye, because of course Steve wouldn’t back down about something like that. He was too goddamn good.

“I’ll- uh- take your word for it, then,” Tony muttered, finally breaking eye contact and looking down on his shoes. It was… weird, when he heard Steve or anyone say things like that. Especially seeing as all his life, people had told him very differently. Howard in particular had loved to throw around the ‘self centred and fucking big-headed’ slur a lot. Tony could see now, objectively, that it had been jealousy and bitterness that had fuelled his harsh words.

It didn’t mean he believed them any less, though. At this point, the self hatred was ingrained into his DNA as much as weaving through a New York crowd was.

“Come on,” Tony was again pulled out of his reverie, this time physically, as he felt Steve gently take his hand and then start to lead him down the path again, a warm look on his face. “Do you know any more about flowers? I’d love to hear it.”

Tony stared down at their connected hands, opening and shutting his mouth like a goldfish. And just like that- at the smallest of touches, the connection of hands, Tony could feel his damn heartbeat skyrocket. It was pathetic. It was ridiculous. It was…

Jesus. It was Steve. Tony couldn’t ever refuse that man.

“Sure,” he agreed with a smile, bumping their shoulders together. “Where do you wanna head?”

Turned out, Steve wanted to visit the massive rockery they kept in one of the central gardens, that was full of tumbling vines and vibrant flowers. He spoke happily all the way there, talking about everything and anything: missions and SHIELD gossip, what the Botanical Garden had looked like back in his day. Tony listened with enthusiasm, adding in his own stories where necessary. They wandered all around the huge rockery, Steve pulling him this way and that, asking about almost every single flower there. Tony laughed, and ran through a brief explanation of every one that he knew, and then when Steve clapped his hands in delight, it felt like something exploded inside Tony’s chest.

Fucking hell, he was so outrageously gone for the man.

“I climbed a rockery when I was about one,” Tony murmured absently, looking up at the wildflowers that sprayed the top of the mound with deep colors. “Well. Climbed down one, if I remember the garden layout correctly. Jarvis- real Jarvis, not computer JARVIS- he found me at the bottom of it, on my ass, playing with the bellflowers. He told me that it was the moment he knew I was going to be a complete handful.” Tony laughed quietly, shaking his head. “Then Ana smacked him over the back of the head and told him not to be ridiculous, they’d known I was a handful the minute they’d set their eyes on me.”

Steve chuckled. “Yeah, I can believe that.”

“Oh, and just for clarification- Ana was Jarvis’ wife.”

There was a small pause, and then Steve turned, looking at him in bemusement. “Yeah, I know. You spoke to me about her once before, a few months ago.”

Oh. Yeah. He had, hadn’t he? “Ah. Yes. Sorry, I just… well, figured you’d forgotten.”

Steve’s eyes were soft again, and a little bit sad. “It’s a part of your childhood, Tony,” he said quietly, “Ana was obviously very important to you. Of course I wouldn’t forget.”

Sometimes, Tony forgot just how good Steve was.

He glanced away, and it was only when he felt Steve’s hand squeeze against his own in comfort that he remembered they were holding hands at all. Doing it had just felt so… natural, after a while, Tony hadn’t even realized it was still happening.

Now, though, he was acutely aware of it.

Because Steve wasn’t pulling him anywhere. They had nowhere to be in which Steve was guiding him- they were literally just holding hands because Tony hadn’t let go yet. 
(And neither had Steve, but Tony refused to believe it was for the reason he thought it was.)

Slowly, he looked down at their interlocked fingers. And then back up at Steve, whose cheeks were now tinted slightly with a rose-pink glow. He didn’t look away, though.

“Steve?” Tony asked, not even daring to speak the words. “Steve, uhm… why did you take me out here, today?”

And he saw it, perched on the tip of Steve’s tongue. The easy excuse, the ‘I just wanted to spend some time with you.’ But it never came out- the confirmation that Tony had been expecting, to set his head back in place, to tell him that he was just reading into this- it never arrived.

Because instead, Steve breathed in quickly and quietly, looked Tony dead in the eye, and said: “I was trying to sneakily get you to go on a date with me.”

Tony felt his brain grind to a halt.

 

What?

 

“You,” he began, rolling the word slowly off his tongue, “you wanted…”

“To ask you out, yes,” Steve said, getting that look in his eye that Tony knew meant he was about to go on a verbal rampage. It was a nervous tic of his. “And I know that it’s… I should’ve asked properly, should’ve let you know first, and if you hadn’t seemed interested I would’a jus’ kept it friendly, because you are, Tony, you’re my best friend and I don’t ever wanna ruin that- but you seemed like you were… I dunno, you looked like you might have been into that, so I kinda went about seein’ if I could woo you, y’know, and obviously if I just got all my signals wrong then we can just forget this ever happened but-“

“Are you serious?” Tony said, genuinely bewildered. “Is this… Clint didn’t put you up to this, right?”

Steve blinked, and then pulled a face. “What? No. I’m not an asshole, Tony, jheeze.”

He mulled over Steve’s words, attempting to make heads or tail of it. But it just didn’t add up in his head. Steve couldn’t want him. Ever. Because Steve was Steve and Tony was… well. It was just better if they didn’t go there. The point was this, though:

In a hundred million universes, in a hundred million different lives, there would never be a single one of them in which Tony Stark deserved anyone like Steve Rogers. Ever.

So this? Nonsensical.

“Tony, please say something,” Steve said softly, and they were still holding fucking hands as the dumb beautiful flowers loomed over them, and Tony could almost hear his brain as it groaned back into gear and attempted to throw out a coherent response, but no words came. “If this is… I got it wrong, didn’t I? I’m so sorry. I’m an idiot. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable-“

“No,” The words were out of Tony’s mouth faster than it took for his brain to stop them, and he instinctively tightened his grip around Steve’s, just so that he wouldn’t let go. He couldn’t believe it was actually happening, but damned if he was going to let Steve feel bad for something that wasn’t even true. “No, you’re not- uh- wrong. At all.”

They both paused, neither of them knowing quite what to say. Tony was still reeling. Steve seemed to be feeling the same.

Eventually, Steve breathed out. His cheeks were getting redder and redder. Tony desperately wanted to trace it with the tips of his fingers. It was the most adorable thing in the world. “Are you serious?” He asked, stepping forward, a flicker of hope in his quiet voice.

Tony looked up at him, so very very confused, but so very very in love. “Yes. Of course I am. I’m not an asshole, Steve, Jheeze.”

That made the other man laugh, and he turned his head to the side bashfully, but before Tony knew what he was doing his fingers had curled around the side of his jaw and turned it right back, so that he could get the full extent of that sunbeam smile.

Steve’s breathing hitched, just a fraction, and they were close enough that Tony could hear it. Then when Steve swallowed, Tony watched his adam’s apple bob up and down too.

“I’ve really wanted to kiss you for- uh- quite a while now,” Steve was almost whispering, cheeks absolutely crimson by this point, but he hadn’t backed away or shouted ‘YOU JUST GOT PUNK’D!’, which was farther than Tony had ever expected to reach. “Would… would I? Do you want- I mean, would I be able to kiss you, please?”

Tony almost wanted to laugh. Trust Steve to ask first, to say please as if he couldn’t hear Tony’s pulse rabbiting under his fingers or work out from the sheer dilation of his pupils that Tony wanted nothing more in the whole wide world.

He just nodded dumbly, and then felt Steve’s lips press softly against his own a few seconds later, tentative and nervous and lovely.

Absently, he noted that Steve smelled a little bit like the lavender he’d been running his fingers through earlier.

Oh God.

Oh God, he was kissing Steve.

Tony expected more, but after a second Steve pulled away, smiling as wide as if Tony had just dropped and given him a blowie right then and there. Which gave Tony a few ideas that he had to be reminded were very unwise and definitely illegal, but anyway.

“Shall we go out tonight?” Tony blurted, fingers still caressing absently through the light strands of hair around Steve’s ears. “A proper date. Restaurant and everything. If you want, I mean.”

Steve shook his head slowly. “I’d rather just stay in, if that’s okay with you? Let’s not make a big deal outta it. I just… wow, I’ve just wanted this for- God, so long, wanted you for so long, it’s hard to even…” Steve smiled, and his hand cupped slowly around Tony’s cheek. “but yeah. Let’s just order takeout or something. The others are out tonight. It’ll be fun.”

Tony watched Steve as he smiled nervously down at him, thumb still making strokes across the side of his face, and everything fell a little violently into place.

Right. No fancy restaurants. No ‘making a deal out of it’. Just inside, when no one else was around, because Steve wanted to fuck.

Oh.

It wasn’t like… Jesus, he should really have seen that one coming. Steve was old-fashioned, of course he felt like he should take someone out first. He was just good like that. And let’s be honest here, how many people actually wanted anything more permanent from Tony Stark? They’d have to be stupid. And Steve was far from that.

He wanted to fuck. He thought Tony was hot, which he was, and so they were going to fuck. Okay. That was… not fine, but Tony would take whatever piece of Steve he could get. It was more than most were willing to offer, anyway. Usually it was Tony being the one doing the giving- whether it was sex or money or his brain- not the other way around. He knew though, that Steve was the one doing him a favour here. And Tony… he really was grateful.

He just had to stop his heart from feeling as if it was concaving.

“Tony?” Steve asked, starting to a look a little concerned at Tony’s silence.

So he made sure to smile, wink suggestively, and then draw himself closer. Steve wanted his body. Tony could do that. “Just lost in thought about tonight, sweetheart,” he said quietly, pressing another feather-soft kiss into that perfectly pink mouth. “Until then, however, do you want to continue this tour?” I want as much of this- of us- as I can get, because I’m selfish and narcissistic and everything Howard ever said I was.

Steve grinned, and his hands squeezed around Tony’s. “Sure thing,” he murmured, “I’d like that.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

They wandered happily, right around the perimeter of the whole garden. Tony leaned his shoulder closer into Steve’s, felt the other man’s hand encircle his waist- and it was just Tony’s imagination, he knew that, but it felt like the perfect fit, right into the jut of his hip. Steve’s fingers left marks on his skin, but none that were visible. They burned themselves deeper than the surface.

He pretended, the whole time, that this was real. That he’d be able to do this every day. That Steve had meant, when he’d told Tony ‘I want you’ -he hadn’t just meant Tony’s body.

But that wouldn’t have been fair on Steve. Tony wouldn’t ask him to do that, not ever. Tony was… too much. Too loud. Too fast. Too temperamental. Steve would never want that anyway.
No one did.

In reality, they were going to go home tonight, and Steve would look at him with his beautifully blue eyes, and Tony would kiss him, and he’d get on his knees and do whatever else Steve asked of him, because that was what Tony could do, and do well. And he loved Steve enough that everything else just didn’t matter. And if Steve came back in a few weeks, or maybe even a few days, Tony would do it again. He was okay with that. He wanted more, but he always wanted more. Because he was selfish enough to think that he should get it.

“These ones are lovely,” Steve said, pointing up the direction of a towering Rhododendron bush that was covered in beautiful hot pink flowers- and Tony shook himself out of his own ridiculously self-pitying headspace in order to look in the same direction that Steve was. “They’re Rhododendrons, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Tony nodded and then waved a hand toward some of the buzzing insects that swarmed it. “The bright colours are great for attracting bees and stuff. They love it- that’s why things like foxgloves and lavender get so many of the little guys. I used to-“ make my own bee gardens, “-watch my mother make bee gardens, full of colourful plants.”

Steve nodded happily, perfectly content to just stare at the insects as they collected pollen and then buzzed off, over to the next place. Tony got a strong sense of déjà vu when he followed suit- how many hours had he lost to just watching the bees come and go off his honeysuckle vines, fascinated eyes fixated on their movement, and how their tiny legs picked up the pollen? How angry had his nanny been, when she’d found him belly-down in the dirt, ruining his white dress shirt for the afternoon in favour of watching insects?

He huffed at the memory, turning his head to the side a little. His eyes picked up a small patch of familiar red, and it made him move without even noticing, drawn toward the soft crimson glow like a moth to a flame.

Carnations had always been his favourite.

Steve’s hands slipped from his waist as he knelt down, let his fingers run over the delicate petals that crinkled and spasmed around the central point. Tony had used to think they’d looked like dresses in mid-flow, turning around on a ballroom floor. They’d looked more elegant than any of the dancers Tony had ever seen, though, so that analogy probably didn’t do them justice.

“What are these ones?” Steve asked slowly, index finger running along the jut of Tony’s shoulder, pausing at the juncture of his neck before going backward repeating the movement all over again.

Tony paused, trying not to shiver at the caress. He could just tell Steve what they were, admit they were his favourite for a reason he couldn’t quite define. It wasn’t even a big deal- Steve freely admitted that he loved the Buddleias that towered high up in the central display.

“I Don’t know,” he shrugged, standing up quickly and turning back to Steve, pressing his hands against the washboard abs in front of him, “don’t care either. Let’s go home now, hmm?”

Steve frowned, just the tiniest bit, at the sudden change in pace, but Tony sealed it with a kiss to his lips, tilting his head and winding a hand through the hair on the back of Steve’s neck. Steve didn’t much complain after that, just letting Tony lead him out of the place with a sort of dumbstruck look on his face.

Tony bit his lip and slid his glasses back up onto his nose. Fuck the stupid plants. Fuck his feelings. This was ridiculous anyway. He wasn’t a baby who looked at pretty colours and dreamed of someone loving him anymore. He was too busy for that these days, what with saving the world and everything.

Steve probably didn’t care about what his favourite flower was anyway.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

After they’d eaten their food- Chinese takeout, which was Tony’s favourite- Steve had wound his arm around Tony’s hips and drawn him in again, pulling him down onto the couch. Tony had felt his pulse skip a beat again, and he’d wound his arms around Steve’s neck- but rather than lean in and kiss him, Steve had just… curled into his side. Rested his head against Tony’s shoulder and then tilted it in the direction of the TV that was playing Pirates of the Caribbean.

Tony, being completely thrown for a loop, had just let his hands settle across the back of Steve’s neck, where spine met hairline.

He had to admit, the wait was killing him. If they were going to fuck, he just wanted to fuck- not have Steve try and treat him like he was anything more than a one-night stand. It had been nice when they were at the Exhibition- now it just hurt. He felt like Steve was playing with him, even though he knew Steve never would. Steve was just trying to be nice.

Tony had to speed things up, though.

Sitting up suddenly, he slipped away from Steve, allowing the other man to fall into a horizontal position on the couch. Steve looked to him in curiosity, but Tony was already moving, twisting around and then throwing a leg across Steve’s hip, straddling him on the sofa. Before either of them could say anything, he leaned down and pulled Steve into a hard kiss.

Steve’s breath went funny, and his hands spasmed by his sides until a second later, when they settled against Tony’s hips. A perfect fit, is what Tony didn’t say.

Instead, he smiled, and then rolled his body into Steve’s, pulling at his bottom lip with gentle teeth. See, this is a game he could play. This is what he was good at.

Steve opened his mouth, something on the tip of his tongue- but Tony didn’t want to hear it. Steve was probably the type of person who’d compliment his partner, tell them nice things. Tony wasn’t sure whether he was strong enough to hear that, just then. So he ducked down quickly and brought his hands to the fly of Steve’s pants, tugging down efficiently.

Steve stopped, stilling very suddenly, and Tony almost had a good grip on the rim of his jeans when suddenly he felt large hands encircle his wrists, gently halting his movement. When he looked up, Steve’s face was slightly concerned.

“What?” He asked, suddenly feeling tense, brittle, on edge. He wasn’t supposed to be talking. They were supposed to be fucking. “Don’t you want me to get on with it?”

Steve blinked rapidly, swallowing down a lump. “I- I mean, is that how it… is that what people do nowdays? I- uh was thinking… I thought it’d go a bit slower.”

Tony paused. He didn’t get what Steve meant. “What, the foreplay? We can do more of that, I was just hoping to get your clothes off first, y’know.”

Steve suddenly felt tense in his arms, and Tony had no idea what he’d done, but he figured it was wrong. That was what he was fucking best at, after all. “I…okay. I mean, if that’s what you want-“

“What I want?” Tony blurted, absolutely bewildered by this point. “I thought this was what you were after?”

Steve sat up, then. His mouth was dark red, his hair messy, and his shirt rucked up- and Tony had only been going for two minutes. But he looked concerned, and there was a deep frown on his face. “I mean… yeah, obviously, but I was just… I dunno, I guess I was just- I haven’t done this before, and so I’m kinda nervous, and I was thinking we could date a little more first, that’s all. But if you… that’s okay too, I’m a quick learner-“

“Whoah whoah whoah, okay, let’s hold up here a second,” Tony made a jerky T-shape with his hands, shutting his eyes, “let’s just… quick timeout. Okay. Uh. First. What is it… that you were hoping for, here?”

“What do you mean by ‘here’?”

“I mean this whole thing. This ‘I want you, Tony’ thing.”

Steve paused, and then looked at Tony like he was doing something a little stupid. “What else is that supposed to mean, other than what it says on the tin?”

Tony paused, and then nodded. “Okay. So you want to fuck. But you also want to… wait? I don’t-“

“Tony, I don’t… I don’t just want to fuck, you know,” Steve eyed him up warily, “you do know that, yeah? Unless…” Those blue eyes suddenly turned horribly vulnerable, and Steve sat up sharply, looking at Tony. “Is that what you wanted, here? I- is that all you came for? Oh God. Oh. I’m so… I’m so sorry, Tony, I didn’t understand… Oh my God, I am such a fuckin’ idiot-“

“Steve,” Tony pressed, suddenly feeling a hysterical sort of desperation claw at him, just underneath his arc reactor. “Steve, tell me honestly- did you bring me out today because you wanted sex, or because you wanted… something more?”

Steve looked as if he wanted to sink through the floor. He glanced down at the rug, apparently mortified. “More,” he whispered, “of course I wanted… Tony, I’ve never even had sex. I don’t- that wasn’t what I asked you out for. I thought- I thought you knew that.”

He felt like his brain had turned muddy. The words weren’t processing correctly, surely? This didn’t make any sense.

Oh shit. What if it… what if it did, though? What if Steve really had just wanted Tony? Not just for the sex, but because of him?
And then Tony had just gone and pushed himself onto a fucking virgin, pretty much proving everything that every newspaper had ever said about him.

Oh jesus. Steve hadn’t even had sex. And Tony had… oh, Fuck.

He’d ruined it. Totally ruined it, before it had even had a chance to become anything. That had to be some kind of record, he thought hysterically, as he scrambled off Steve’s lap like it was burning hot.

“My God,” he croaked, feeling like he could hardly breathe, “oh shit, fuck, Steve- I am so sorry, I am so so… I thought that was what you were after, I didn’t mean to be- I should go, this was a mistake, I’m a mistake, you’re better off without me okay, just-“

Air wasn’t coming, and Steve was looking at him as if Tony had just gone and set fire to his sketchbook. He couldn’t be here any more. He couldn’t look at Steve, messed up and hurt and perfect, and know that he’d had a chance with that if only he hadn’t been such a fucking idiot.

 

Tony wasn’t anything but painful. His outside was pretty, but touch him, and all you’d find was thorns. And it was the people like Steve he ended up hurting.

 

“I’m sorry,” he stumbled over the words at the same pace as his feet as they dashed from the living room, away from the disaster zone, “I’ll go, I’m sorry.”

“Tony, wait-“

 

He didn’t.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

“Mr. Seth?” Tony was 9, tugging on the overalls of his gardener as he trawled away at the bushes with his shears and wiped sweat from his brow. “Can I ask you a question?”

Mr. Seth turned to him, brow furrowed, but eyes soft. “Sure thing, kiddo. Shoot.”

Tony liked Mr. Seth. He was fairly quiet, but friendly. He patted Tony’s hair sometimes, which was nice. “Why does my dad hate the fact that I like flowers and pretty things so much?”

He watched as Mr. Seth’s face scrunched up, something slightly wary flashing across his expression. “I.. I ain’t really supposed to talk about that kinda stuff, Master Anthony, I-“

“I’m not going to tell on you or anything,” Tony hurried to assure him, holding out his pinkie finger in promise. “I… he’s not in a good mood with me right now anyway. He might push me again.”

Mr. Seth’s face scrunched further, and he got down on his knees, so that he was level with Tony. His eyes were concerned, but fond, and his hand came to rest on Tony’s shoulder. It took up the entire space there.

“Kid…” The words came out thick, like they were difficult to say. “Sometimes, people decide that boys or girls should only like certain things. That they should fit a mould that society makes for ‘em, and never try arguin’ it. In this instance, it’s the idea that boys and men should only like big tough stuff, and girls get to have the pretty, flowery things.”

Tony frowned. “But that’s stupid. Why can’t I like the pretty things as well?”

Another sigh. “I wish you could, son. I really do. But you’re a Stark. You’re a kid in the limelight, with a hell’uva role to fill. I think… I just think ya dad is trying to make you best suited for it. If you’re hard, and you’re tough, then you’re gonna fit into this life pretty well. If you take the other option….” Mr. Seth shrugged, “it’s harder to say. World’s very cruel sometimes, Master Anthony, and I don’t think it’s quite big enough to hold you and all your funny little ideas in it jus’ yet.”

Tony’s heart sunk, and he felt his lip quiver. “So… I can’t like flowers?”

“No no, I ain’t try’na tell ya that, kid,” Mr. Seth huffed, and then got to his feet, grabbing his shears from the ground again. “I’m sayin’… be who you want to be. Do what you wanna do. But do it behind closed doors. Don’t show people the soft stuff. Don’t show ‘em the flowers, or the pretty things, or the bits that people might call weak. It’s better that way. I promise.”

 

 

Tony blinked awake, sitting up sharply in bed. His head was hurting, as usual, and as he palmed a clammy hand across his forehead, he turned and checked the clock.

6:47 am. He’d gotten forty minutes of sleep.

Brilliant.

With a sigh, he let himself flop back onto the mattress, staring up at the wall with a blank expression carved into his face. The memories of last night flooded back to him as soon as he’d fallen back into consciousness, and filled him with a cloying misery that refused to budge from under his sternum.

God, he was such a pathetic idiot.

He was going to have to apologize to Steve at some point. Jesus- he’d flat out gone and thrown himself at the guy, trying to get into his pants when all Steve had wanted was to take things slow and cuddle on the couch. He was such an asshole. Steve must have felt so uncomfortable- Tony didn’t even know how he was going to go about fixing that, they were supposed to be best friends and then Tony had just gone and royally fucked everything up because he’d assumed all Steve had wanted from him was sex, without even asking first. He’d just assumed the worst- like always.

He rolled onto his stomach, put his head into the pillow, and groaned loudly. This fucking sucked. Why did he have to ruin everything? Why did he have to go and goddamn push everything good away from him?

“JARVIS?” He asked, voice muffled by the pillow, “I take it Steve is about to go on his morning run, yeah?”

He always set off at seven in the winter months, and five in the summer. So that meant he was probably getting ready in the kitchen at this point.

“Yes, sir- he is preparing two slices of toast in the kitchen.”

With his chest feeling heavy, Tony rose from his bed once more. He needed to go and apologize for being such a douche, and hopefully they could just… forget that this had ever happened. Of course, neither of them actually would- not really- and it would probably affect their friendship, but hey? That’s what Tony got for being a pathetic baby!

Jesus.

The walk down was excruciating: Tony wanted to turn on his heel and run back to bed at every step taken forward, but he persisted. Because he owed Steve an explanation at the very least, and Tony was not a coward. He’d fought alien armies, okay, he could do this.

Steve’s back was turned to him as he shuffled into the large kitchen, but it stiffened as soon as Tony set eyes on him, because it was Steve, of course he knew when someone was behind him, and almost certainly who that someone was. He had hearing like a bat. Tony watched as the plate was slowly lowered back down to the counter-top, and then Steve hesitated for a single moment- but he turned around anyway. He had his Captain America expression on. He wasn’t letting anything show.

Tony’s heart clenched painfully. Idiot idiot idiot idiot.

“Hi,” he said quietly, hands tapping along the side of the table.

Steve didn’t look him in the eye. “Hey,” he responded robotically, abandoning the plate of toast entirely as he began to walk forward, “I’m just about to go on my run, so I’ll see you when I get b-“

“Steve,” Tony grabbed his wrist quickly, desperately, before he could pass by. “Steve, can you just… wait a second. Let me- I need to explain.”

“Explain what?” Steve sounded so tired, “you made things pretty clear last night. You just wanted to fuck, I wanted to date. We got our wires crossed. It’s okay. I’m not gonna hold it to you.”

“No, but it’s not like that!” Tony told him desperately, stepping backward so that he could look Steve in the eye properly. “Steve… Steve, I am an asshole, and I’m stupid okay- I just thought that sex was all that you wanted! And me, fuck, I was so stupid in love with you that I would’ve just taken whatever I could get from you, even if it was just that and nothing else. And so we went home and I started- and I shouldn’t have, okay, I should have clarified first, but I’m no good at talking and I just assume the worst of everyone because I am an asshole.”

It was only when Steve’s eyes widened and his breath caught in his throat that Tony realized what exactly it was that he’d blurted out in the heat of the moment.

“You’re in love with me?” Steve asked dumbly.

Tony froze up, feeling his limbs turn to ice. The dream he’d had, barely even half an hour ago, came back to him
Don’t show people the soft stuff. Don’t show ‘em the flowers, or the pretty things, or the bits that people might call weak. It’s better that way.

What had Tony just done?

“I…” his tongue felt heavier than it ever had before, clogging up his mouth, trying to stop the words from coming. But what was the point, really? He’d already said it. He couldn’t just take that back. That just wasn’t something you said accidentally. That was something you said after hours of thought, of imagining, of wishing and desperately hoping for a thing so beautiful you just knew beyond a shadow of doubt that it could never be yours.

So he just nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

Neither of them said anything for a few seconds. Just stood, face to face in the kitchen whilst the watery light of morning filtered in around them.

“Loving me means that you should know me as well,” Steve said eventually, voice sounding hoarse, like he’d just been screaming for a flat hour, “and knowing that I wouldn’t have just… I wouldn’t have taken you out all day on a date and acted as if you were more than just a quick fuck if it hadn’t actually meant anything, Tony. You know that’s not me. I don’t do one-night stands. Why did you… I’m just so confused-“

“Because that’s just what people want from me,” Tony explained, shutting his eyes. His head was throbbing. “Steve, you have to understand- I am not someone that people date. I am someone that people think is attractive, or rich, or intelligent and talented, and they take that part instead. They don’t- people don’t just stick around for me. And then you said… you said you didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, and you just wanted to stay inside, and that you’d wanted me for so long… I just thought you wanted sex. Everyone else does. I don’t blame them, either. As you can see, I’m a fucking mess. You’re better off not getting yourself involved in this shit anyway.”

Steve gaped at him, looking kind of horrified. Then he shook his head and stumbled forward, closer. “What? No. Tony, no, that’s not what I meant at all! When I said we should stay in and not make a big deal out of it… I meant for the reporters. For everyone who would take photos and try and talk to us and stuff. I wouldn’t have minded that as much if we’d have just been going out as friends, but… I wanted it to be just us. No one else. So I said we should just stay in. I didn’t- it wasn’t that I didn’t want to make a big deal of you. I swear, Tony, I think-“ Steve broke off, huffing out a tired laugh, “I think we just made a real big mess of this, huh?”

Tony blinked rapidly, trying to make heads or tail of the whole situation. Steve was right: they really had fucked this whole thing up.

Steve finally looked him in the eye, then, and when he smiled, Tony could hardly even contain the feeling it brought to his chest. “I think maybe we should start this all again, huh?” He asked, extending his hand and then slowly wrapping it around Tony’s wrist, sliding his fingers down until they locked around Tony’s own. “Would you like to date me, Tony? And be in a relationship with me that is more than just fucking- that’s movie nights and cheesy flirting and cuddles on the couch, all that stuff, too?”

Tony couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was he in a dream? Surely he had to be. There was no way this was-

Steve tilted his chin up with his spare hand and then leaned down, pressing a gentle kiss to Tony’s mouth. “And just for the record,” he whispered, “I’m stupid in love with you as well.”

Tony’s eyes closed of their own command, and he leaned forward into Steve’s chest, kissing him again. He wasn’t strong enough to resist this. Not after he’d wanted it for so long.

Steve’s arms wrapped around his waist, pulling him close. Tony had to lean up onto his tiptoes in order to get the angle right because Steve was so damned tall, and then his own fingertips moved up the sides of Steve’s shirt, around his shoulders, landing firmly on each side of his neck. He traced Steve’s bottom lip with his tongue, feeling Steve melt further into him as he did so. It was the most addictive thing in the world- softer than the kiss they’d shared last night, and with the direction in mind. Just a kiss. Just a perfect fucking kiss.

“This is a bad idea,” Tony mumbled into his mouth whilst Steve manoeuvred them a little, before ducking down and winding his hands under Tony’s thighs in order to lift him onto the table, “I am no good for you, Steve.”

“Why don’t we wait and find out, hmm?” Steve broke off, interspersing each section of words with a gentle kiss. He was smiling.

“I’m going to hurt you.”

“I’ve got a pretty high pain tolerance.”

“I’m a handful though-“

“Lucky me, I’ve got two hands.”

Tony stared up at him, incredulous, as Steve just laughed at his own shitty joke like a complete fool. It was difficult to comprehend, that Steve was this close, that the tingle on Tony’s mouth was because he could still taste Steve there. It shouldn’t have been happening. This wasn’t something that happened to people like Tony Stark. 

“I’m going to go on a run,” Steve told him, keeping close enough that the tips of their noses touched. “Please try not to run away or have a crisis of faith before I can get back and reassure you.”

Tony couldn’t help it; he laughed, loud and kind of ugly, tilting his head into Steve’s shoulder. “No promises,” he said, “I’m temperamental on the best of days.”

“And yet, I still I love you,” Steve shrugged as he stepped back, looking like the stars were shining right through his eyes as he stared at Tony. He radiated happiness, and the thought that it was Tony who was responsible for that was staggering.

Steve pulled his keys from the counter, diving back to kiss Tony again before he stumbled backward, still smiling, and then dashed out through the door.

 

Tony watched him go, and his heart felt soft.
For what was quite possibly the first time in his life, he didn’t even feel weak because of it.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 He woke up to kisses across his back, and blinked wearily at the faint morning light that splayed out through the gaps in their curtains.

Turning around on the bed, he buried himself into Steve’s waiting arms, nose pressed up into the boiling hot chest. “Mmmf.”

“Happy one-year anniversary, sweetheart.”

It took a moment for the words to sink into Tony’s sleep-soaked brain, but when it did, he looked up sharply, feeling his bangs as they fell messily into his eyes. Steve was looking down at him already, and as soon as he saw Tony’s face he laughed, sweeping those messy pieces out of his face. “Your bedhead is looking particularly attractive today.”

“My bedhead is always looking attractive, Steve, I don’t know what you’re saying.” Tony stretched like a cat in Steve’s arms and then yawned. “Ugh, what time is it?”

Steve looked at the clock on the bedside. “7:15.”

“I hate you.”

Steve just grinned, licking the tip of Tony’s nose and making him yelp. “Yeah, sure, I hate you too darling, it’s the only reason we’ve lasted this long.”

“Ah, mutual hatred,” Tony sighed, “the building blocks for a stable relationship.”

They both laughed tiredly, burying the sounds into one another’s skin. Tony felt the warmth of it across his neck, spreading into every part of him, and knew without a doubt that today would be a good day.

He’d made it a year with Steve. And he intended to make it many more. That was a very nice thought to wake up to.

 

Steve dragged them both downstairs to eat breakfast, because once he was up, there was no sending him back to sleep, and of course, since they’d started dating that just meant that Tony had gotten used to waking up far earlier than what was humanly acceptable. He didn’t exactly mind though- not when it meant he could watch Steve get changed for his morning run. Together, they ate breakfast, curled into one another on the couch in the living room and watching shitty early morning television that played out on the TV, because both of them were too lazy to just ask JARVIS to put something better on. Steve’s free hand played with Tony’s curls the whole time, smoothing out the tangles whilst Tony simply dozed on Steve’s chest, the tips of his fingers tracing mindless patterns into Steve’s exposed stomach.

It was perfect. As was every morning with Steve.

Ten minutes later, Steve went out on his usual morning run, and Tony pulled himself off the couch in order to set the dishwasher and clean up some of the mess that Clint and Thor had managed to make last night whilst attempting to create brownies. Due to the fact that Tony could not find said brownies in any of the cupboards or tins, he figured they were successfully eaten within the first ten minutes.

Assholes. They’d promised to save Tony some.

He whiled away the minutes to cleaning whilst the morning radio played something upbeat and bouncy. Everyone had always found it absurd, whenever they’d seen Tony clean- why would a billionaire ever choose to clean up and not just hire someone else to do it? But none of them knew how many hours he’d spent with Jarvis, cleaning up the kitchen counters that he could barely even see over whilst the butler simply smiled down at him fondly and made mental notes to go over the spots that Tony had done once the boy went to bed, so that something could actually get cleaned rather than just smeared around.

They’d been simpler times, back then. And that was why Tony liked cleaning- it brought him back to them.

He heard as the door clicked open again, and looked at the clock in surprise. He’d whiled away thirty minutes on prepping the kitchen for the next day. Huh. He never usually got that in the zone. “Don’t come near me if you’re sweaty, Steve, or I’m dumping you on our anniversary.”

He heard a chuckle from behind him, and threw the cloth in the direction of the sink before turning on his heel, already wandering forward despite the threat he had made not even seconds previously.

And then, of course, he stopped dead.

Steve was… impossible to actually see, because of the huge bouquet of flowers that were shrouding his entire upper body. Held in a firm grasp between two sturdy hands, he watched as Steve shuffled around, shifted the vase he was carrying them in in order to actually see Tony through the swathes of green and dark red.

“Happy anniversary!” Steve said, holding out the most enormous bouquet of deep red carnations that Tony had ever seen.

He made a soft noise in the back of his throat and took them from Steve’s hands, holding them out in front of him and staring. They were truly magnificent: obviously very expensively put-together, and smelling lightly of a fragrance that must have been sprayed on by the florist, because Tony knew that carnations were scentless. Their petals crimped and fluttered as Tony moved even fractionally, and he felt one or two of the soft flowers brush up against his chin.

They were the most beautiful thing Tony had ever received.

“I know, I know we had a ‘no presents allowed’ rule and everything,” Steve began, which, true- they were both historically known for being utterly useless at gift-giving, and had decided to simply veto that option and instead just focus on treating one another in different ways instead- “but I saw these last week in the florist I run by, and they rang a bell in my mind, and it took a few days for the penny to drop, but then I realized-“

Steve stumbled forward, pulling out his phone and then opening up the camera roll, scrolling down and down and down until he reached- “I took a photo of them on our first sort-of date, when we went to the flower exhibition at the Botanical Gardens? I… you went to look at them, and I saw the look on your face when you stared, and obviously… I dunno, you obviously really loved them.” He shrugged, going slightly pink in the cheeks. “But when I asked you, you said you didn’t know what they were. So. Uh. I took a picture of them when you weren’t looking. And I’d been going to go ask someone about them, so I could get you some? But then… I don’t know, it just slipped my mind. Until last week!” He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, looking like an excited puppy. “So? Do you like ‘em?”

Tony felt something block his throat. There was a lump there that was stopping the words coming out properly. Instead, he just nodded jerkily. “I.. wow. They’re- wow. This is, this is absolutely gorgeous, Steve, thank you. I… wow.”

He could feel it coming before he even knew what was going on. Something burned behind his eyes- a long and familiar ache that he’d kept down for so long, hidden away, refused to share with anyone. But then… fucking Steve, Steve had remembered, and he didn’t care that Tony thought they were pretty, he didn’t think any less of Tony for it, he just… indulged him in it.

“Tony?” Steve was suddenly closer, his hands on Tony’s forearms, looking concerned. “Hey, what’s wrong? Is this bad? Should I not have-“

“No no, God, no,” Tony shook his head rapidly and wiped the stray tear off his cheek, smiling up at Steve. “Nothing like that, I promise. I just… this is really nice, Steve. No-one’s ever bought me flowers before.”

Steve’s face went funny at that. “But flowers are your favourite. Why wouldn’t anyone…”

He trailed off when he saw Tony staring at him in surprise. He’d never told Steve that fact. “I- flowers aren’t my favourite, what do you m-“

“Oh come on, Tony, we’ve been dating for a year now, you think I wouldn’t have noticed?” Steve looked at him fondly, wrapping a hand around the back of Tony’s neck. He quickly plucked the vase from Tony’s hands and then slid it delicately onto the table before turning back and giving Tony his full focus. “I see the effort you put into picking out flowers for Pepper when you piss her off, and how you know all their types and their meanings, and how your face goes all adorable and soft when we pass them by. You don’t need to try and hide it, Tony. I think it’s sweet.”

“Well, you’re the only one,” Tony laughed wetly, looking away. “My dad once caught me making flower crowns and he spat on the ground and called me a queer. Or just hit me- I dunno, it was different each time, I guess. And then when the kids at my boarding school saw me with my flower press, they broke two ribs, fractured my nose and threw the press in the trash. I tried to come into work wearing a floral suit once, when I was about twenty, and I was quietly informed by about a dozen people that no one would ever take me seriously ever again if I showed up looking like that.” He sighed, and then looked at Steve gently. “People don’t… maybe if I wasn’t so in the spotlight as I am, I could show off that part of me. But I am. And I can’t. So… I don’t. Not to anyone.”

Steve was staring at him, and so Tony stepped forward, taking his hand. “Fuck, sorry, I’ve made this really depressing, haven’t I? But I do love them, Steve, seriously, they’re… I think this is the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me, actually, so…”

He trailed off, hearing Steve’s silence as if it were a scream. He didn’t know what the other man was thinking. Was he put-out that Tony had put such a dampener on his amazing gift? Honestly, Tony wouldn’t blame him. He was really great at screwing up.

But then Steve moved- slow and gentle, and ducked his head down, kissing Tony on the forehead as his arm stretched out behind Tony, reaching for the vase. He turned, watching Steve as he delicately plucked a single flower from the bouquet and then broke its stem a few inches down from the petals. Tony was about to complain- but then Steve quietly, softly delicately tucked the beautiful carnation behind Tony’s ear, pushing it through one of the loops in his curls to secure it in place.

“There,” Steve said, his voice feather soft, “you look perfect. You are perfect.”

Tony looked up at him, feeling something huge swell in his chest. Actions spoke louder than words, and this was Steve’s way of saying ‘I understand. I’m sorry. I think you’re amazing anyway.’

“I love you so much,” Tony told him, shaking his head in disbelief, because he still didn’t believe that Steve Rogers belonged with him- still didn’t know how he’d managed to trick the universe into thinking that he deserved that, even just a little bit- but the fact was that he did. He did have Steve, and Jesus Christ, Tony was going to cherish that every day.

Steve sighed, and then he kissed Tony’s forehead, and then his cheek, and then his other one. “Love you more,” he whispered, and Tony felt the small mischievous grin against his skin.

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? I think we are about to have a rather large disagreement, then.”

Steve simply shrugged, pulling away. “Much as I’d hate to argue with the love of my life on our anniversary, I feel as if this is something I’m going to have to stand firm in.”

Tony laughed, launching himself forward into Steve’s arms and poking him under the ribs, right where he knew Steve’s ticklish spot was. Of course, Steve yelped, wrapping his arms around Tony’s waist and then hefting him upward, tucking him under his arm as if he weighed nothing at all, and was simply just a human-shaped handbag.

They proceeded to tickle, poke and generally annoy one another until eventually settling down into kissing on the couch, slow and easy and wonderful. Tony forgot about the flowers- forgot about everything other than Steve, and how lucky Tony was to have him right there.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Steve, however, did not forget.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

It was 9 at night on a Sunday, and Tony was about ready to fall asleep right on his desk in the office.

He’d been at work since seven, sorting through various health and safety checks that were going to have to be done all over the company over the next few weeks. Then there had been all the paperwork- and yes, that bit was his own fault, he’d been putting all of it off for weeks, until it had grown into a pile taller than himself- but still, it’d taken Tony four hours just to trawl through all of it. He still had about an hour’s worth of work to do before he could even go home, too.

Today sucked, he decided, letting his head fall onto the clear glass of his desk and sighing loudly.

He remained there for about a minute, just resting his strained eyes, but was then interrupted by a heavy knock on the door of his office. Tony frowned. It wasn’t Pepper’s knock- hers was far more sharp than that, and it wasn’t Happy’s either, his was a thud of his palm.

That was… “Steve?”

In answer, a blond tuft of hair poked around the door, and then Steve’s bashful smile lit up the office, his cheeks a wonderful light pink. “Hi,” he said, slipping in hurriedly. He was in his Cap uniform, which made sense, seeing as he should really have been in SHIELD HQ for a meeting about ten minutes ago, according to Tony’s watch.

“Steve, what are you doing here?” He asked, watching Steve wander forward, hands behind his back. “And what are you about to pull out from behind you? It’s not a puppy is it? It better not be a puppy right now, I am not cleaning up dog shit from off my desk, that is absolutely the last thing I want right now-“

Steve quickly slipped a thin tubular vase, filled with about five baby pink and cream peonies, onto Tony’s desk, right in the centre. He smelt their soft floral aroma almost immediately, filling up the room with an invisible beauty.

Whilst Tony simply gaped at them like a fool, Steve quickly swooped down and planted a kiss softly against Tony’s lips. “I can’t stay, I’m already late. I just saw them on the way to work this evening and thought of you, so I just had to buy them and bring them over. I think there’s some plant-feeder stuff taped to the other side, you’ll know what to do better than I will, okay, love you, bye!”

And like a whirlwind of blond hair and laughter, Steve was gone. Just like that. He’d just stopped by, given Tony a kiss and a bouquet, and then left.

‘I saw them and thought of you.’

He thumbed open the little tag where messages were put, and then saw Steve had written in scruffy handwriting obviously whilst still on the move, nothing more than a smiley face and a bunch of kisses.

He laughed and pulled it off, pocketing it gently for safekeeping, and then carefully picking up the vase and moving it over to the window. It’d get the best sunlight there, and he could come back in the morning to water it.

Five minutes later, he caved and brought it right back to his desk, just so he could look at them and feel the warmth spark up in his chest again.

It was a simple gesture. But the message behind it- the effort Steve would have gone to pick that up, take a detour and run up the stairs to give it Tony himself- it said a lot. And they’d been dating over a year now, but still… sometimes it was hard to believe that Steve cared that much.

He took in a short breath and plucked the smallest of the peonies from the little bouquet. Absently, he tucked it in behind his ear in the same way Steve had done a few weeks ago on their anniversary; the same way he’d used to all the time as a child.

When he next put pen to paper and got back to work, there was a faint smile on his face, and he didn’t feel quite so exhausted.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

“Clint, for God’s sake, you cannot go out wearing nothing under your waistcoat, for the last time, this is the biggest press event of the year and I do not want three million reporters taking pictures of your biceps as opposed to the charity event that we are actually supposed to be promoting here!” Tony folded his arms and blocked Clint from leaving out the door, utterly unimpressed as he glared at Clint, who was pouting like a sullen child and rubbing a hand over his bare arms.

“I think it looks cool,” he muttered, “You’re no fun. Natasha, tell him he’s no fun.”

Natasha, who was fixing her earrings up in the huge mirror hung against the wall, didn’t even look their way. “Clint, you look like a male stripper. Get changed or I’m tearing the thing in half and you’re walking out there with no shirt on at all.”

“Oh God, don’t give him ideas,” Tony muttered as he pushed Clint backward and off into the direction of his room once again. Around him, all his team were milling about in their finery- Natasha with a stunning dark green dress that hugged her figure beautifully, and undoubtedly concealed half a dozen lethal weapons underneath it. Thor was dressed in Asgardian regal-wear that flowed over him as if spun from actual gold, which, y’know, wasn’t even out of the question. It was Thor, after all. Then there was Bruce, who, like Tony, was dressed in the simple tux- although his was the plain black, as opposed to Tony himself, who had gone with a striking dark red that he felt fitted his aesthetic quite well. He’d been half tempted to get it with gold pinstripes, but had ultimately decided that would be a little too flash. Instead, he’d stuck to gold-toed brogues, a gold thumb ring, and a gold-lined pocket square.

Whilst getting ready he had looked, very briefly, at the gold kohl he’d bought on a whim months back. He wished that he was able to wear that too. It looked so pretty, and would’ve finished off the look rather beautifully.

But… that wasn’t really how it worked, was it? That wasn’t the correct way for a man like Tony Stark to be beautiful, really.

So he’d sighed and, in the same way he did every time he considered doing something like that, he quickly disregarded it.

“Where the hell is Steve?” Tony looked at his watch hurriedly, a frown filling out his forehead as he glanced to the door. “He was supposed to be here by now.”

“How are we supposed to know- he’s your boyfriend, not mine,” Bruce informed with a shrug, “he’s probably just caught up in traffic or something. You said he’d been going to pick up his suit from the tailor’s, right?”

Tony nodded, snatching the plate of Oreos that Thor was attempting to discreetly stash into his cape. “Yeah, I guess so. Also: Thor, snacks aren’t allowed in the Museum of Modern Art. You’ll get crumbs everywhere.”

Thor sighed sadly and then turned to Bruce, who kissed his shoulder in consolidation. Tony just pretended not to see Bruce quickly slip the packet of Oreos up his sleeve whilst Tony was supposedly ‘not looking’.

He loved his team. But good, they were a PR nightmare. And that was coming from Tony Stark- king of PR-related disasters. So really, that was saying something. But Tony could bet money on the promise that by the end of tonight, something would either be bleeding, screaming, or on fire. Possibly all three, depending on how drunk Thor and Clint got.

It really begged the question as to why he still let Pepper give these things the go-ahead. The Avengers did not have a good track record so far.

“Natasha, put the knife away,” he called out to her as he bent down to retie his laces, “I don’t care how annoying Clint’s being, I don’t want any blood on that suit. It took me three hours to convince him to get fitted for it, and I’m hoping to get at least five years out of it.”

She muttered something in Russian that he didn’t quite catch, but he just had to hope that she followed his order and sheathed her knife back into whatever secret holster she’d taken it from. As he thumbed his laces over one another and bowed them, he checked his watch again. “God, where the hell is Steve?”

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” Bruce sing-songed, and Tony looked up just in time to see the elevator doors slide open smoothly and Steve step out, hands fiddling absently with his tie.

Tony’s mouth dropped open.

“Ooooooooooh, damn Cap, really putting’ the show on tonight,” Clint wolf-whistled from behind Tony, and Steve grinned bashfully, smoothing out his tux with something that looked like pride.

“Thought I’d switch up from the boring black and white I usually wear,” Steve told them all, and then laughed as Thor patted him boisterously on the back.

“You look wonderful!” The God told him wholeheartedly, “I never understood the human tradition of wearing such depressing colours to events anyway. No offence, Bruce,” he threw behind his shoulder with a wink, “you’re the only Midgardian who can pull it off, of course.”

Steve’s eyes moved to Tony, and he smiled softly, doing a small spin in his pale pink floral-pattered suit. “Whadd’ya think?” He asked.

Tony swallowed, standing up and making sure he didn’t immediately fall over. In all his life, he’d never seen Steve Rogers wearing anything other than the most traditional of things, including a literal American flag. And now here he was- head-to-toe in soft pink, with the exception of his lilac tie and pale blue shoes. All over the suit were the tiniest flowers, and as Tony stepped closer, he realized they were marigolds. One of Tony’s other favourites.

“You look…” he tried to think of a word to encompass it all, “like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Steve laughed. It was such a beautiful laugh; like sunlight compressed into soundwaves. “I’m going to take that as a compliment,” he declared, moving forward and closing the space between them, taking Tony’s face in his hands and then pressing a kiss to his forehead.

Tony’s hands curled up around Steve’s wrists, and he looked up. “People are going to go wild over this, you know,” he said quietly. “You’ll get a lot of reporters saying a lot of stuff.”

Steve moved his mouth to Tony’s ear. “Let them,” he said simply, before stepping back and then offering his arm out, the perfect gentleman.

Tony’s smile felt stupid and too big for his face- the way it always felt when it was a real one. He slipped his arm through Steve’s, stood on his tiptoes and then placed a quick kiss against the smooth cheek. “Alright Avengers,” he declared, looking around the room solemnly. “Let’s go into battle.”

Steve squeezed his hand, and Tony felt it like a compression on his heart.

 

Later that night, after a screaming match between Clint and Natasha, a fire started by Thor, and a bloody set of knuckles from Bruce after a particular gentleman had attempted to call Thor a stupid oaf, Tony sat in the back of a cab with Steve, curled into the other man’s warmth. Utterly exhausted, he concentrated on Steve’s heartbeat and not the several different formal apologies he was going to have to send out to various patrons.

He felt Steve move him and whined quietly, the loss of super-soldier bodyheat seeming ten times more noticeable when mixed with the chill of December and also the exhaustion. But Steve didn’t stay away for long- Tony’s eyes were half-shut, but he saw Steve tug his jacket off, revealing the wonderful pastel-pink shirt underneath. Steve’s arms came around Tony’s shoulders, and he felt the overly large jacket being placed over his shoulders, encompassing him with warmth and a Steve-smell that Tony only ever found on the clothes the man wore.

He was pulled gently back into Steve’s shoulder, and Tony felt himself smile on autopilot. “Do I suit it?” He mumbled, looking down at the orange marigolds which now littered his collar.

Steve ran his hand through Tony’s hair and then pulled his chin up with two fingers, kissing him softly. “You pull it off better than I ever could,” he confirmed.

Tony just sighed. “Impossible. You look good in everything.”

“And yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen something as beautiful as you when you’re enjoying something you love.”

He didn’t know quite what to say to that. He never did. Steve came out with it so easily- his love was never masked, never hidden. He said what he thought, every time.

They didn’t speak after that. They just stayed holding one another, right up until falling into bed twenty minutes later.

 

Tony saw the lilac tie in his own wardrobe a few days later.

 

He wore it to the next press conference- and despite the flashing of all the cameras, Steve’s untamed grin was the brightest thing out in the auditorium.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

There was a thing, and it was a stupid Loki-based fuckup on a massive, epic fucking scale, but for some reason or another, Tony was happily minding his business drinking his morning coffee as Steve read his newspaper next to him, when suddenly his phone started blowing up with the red alert signal.

“What are they giving us?” Steve asked, dropping the paper and standing immediately to look over Tony’s shoulder at the message. Tony just coked his head in mild disbelief, reading the ‘CODE-LOKI. WE GOT ANOTHER MAN OUT OF TIME. STARK, YOU’RE NEEDED’ from Fury.

“That doesn’t sound ominous at all,” Tony said, turning around and raising an eyebrow at Steve. “Right. Looks like I’m gonna have to cut breakfast short.”

“I’ll come with you,” Steve said firmly, “if we got another time traveller, he might need a bit of guidance from someone who’s been there, done that.”

Tony nodded, and then turned to grab his jacket and keys. “I’m driving.”

“What? You haven’t had your two coffees yet, that’s your equivalent to driving drunk. Let me drive.”

“Steve, you drive like a maniac with a deathwish. I’m driving.”

“I’m driving.”

I’m driving.”

Steve walked forward quickly, hands pulling Tony in by the waist and kissing him hard. Tony sunk into it on autopilot, completely aware of the hand slipping into his back pocket and pulling out the car keys, but unable to care. Until Steve pulled away, of course, and Tony snapped out of the trance.

“I hate you!” He called out to Steve’s turned back as the man ran down the stairs and in the direction of the garage before Tony could even attempt to stop him.

 

Steve had been laughing then.

He wasn’t now, however.

 

Who did you say was here?” He asked quietly, dangerously, as Tony simply stood in complete shock next to him.

Fury folded his arms and puffed. “Howard Stark. Loki pulled him out of his own time stream for some Goddamn unknown reason. Said he needed him gone for a few days. Left a note in Stark’s breast pocket and everything. Real polite of him.” He rolled his eyes and then shrugged. “We want him back as quick as possible, obviously, so I figured, what with Stark senior and Junior’s combined IQ being higher than that of the entire SHIELD science division, they could probably hash up a solution in quick t-“

“No,” Steve said, shaking his head, voice hard, “no, Tony is not going near him.”

“Steve,” Tony said quietly, “Steve, it’s fine-“

“This is not fine!” Steve swung around and glared at him, “Tony, you dealt with that piece of shit for 21 fucking years, okay, they can wait for a few goddamn days before he fucks back off to wherever he came from-“

“You know it’s dangerous to keep people in the wrong timeline for an extended period,” Tony told him quietly, curling his hand into a fist so it wouldn’t shake. Jesus Christ. This… this was really not how he’d wanted to spend his Tuesday morning. And it would really suck to get a PTSD attack in the middle of SHIELD HQ. That would just be embarrassing.

Steve opened and shut his mouth a few times, before clenching his jaw. He knew that this was bigger than them. Messing with timelines could be catastrophic- both of them knew that.

Tony was just going to have to suck it up and deal. Anyway- he was a grown man now. He was a superhero. And Howard Stark was just a bitter old bigot with a drinking problem.

He took a small breath and then smiled, squeezing Steve’s hand. “It’ll be fine,” he said, before turning back to Fury. “Lead the way.”

Fury eyed him slightly curiously, before nodding and dropping the file in his hands onto his desk. “He’s being kept in containment currently, and we’re trying to make him as comfortable as possible whilst withholding as much as possible at the same time.”

Tony huffed. “Bet he likes that.” He thought of all the years Howard had spent puffing his chest and getting exactly what he wanted, always holding all the cards, always being the one in the room who knew everything. This development would undoubtedly have put him in a sour mood already.

He turned to Steve, who was walking at his side, no intention of stopping behind or holding back. “You have to treat him nice,” Tony warned, “if he gets in a pissy mood then he’s not going to help us, and we need him to cooperate. Don’t make him suspicious. Treat him the same as you would’ve done back in the war.”

Every inch of Steve looked angry, but he nodded. A second later, Tony watched him visibly attempt to relax himself. It was a pretty piss-poor effort, but he at least looked like he wasn’t going to head in there and straight-up murder the guy.

Fury led them to a room in one of the corners of the compound, and then stopped at the door, unlocking it with his thumb. Then he gestured both of them forward, and nodded his head. “Collaborate, Stark,” he warned, and then turned his eye on Steve, “you too, Captain.”

Steve bristled, but he shot Fury a tight smile. “You know me, Nick,” he said through a sharp exhale, “collaborating and being non-confrontational is my middle name.”

That, at least, made Tony laugh.

 

The room Howard was staying in was one of the best in the whole compound. Spacious, with a window that looked out onto the Hudson,  and all the facilities. A fridge. A workspace.

A minibar.

Howard was stood by the window, simply looking out. Tony may have hated the man, but he couldn’t deny, he had been an innovator years ahead of his time. Tony knew that as he stared out into that river, a billion thoughts were all flowing through his mind like electricity, evaluating and deliberating.

He heard the footsteps as they came through the door, and turned sharply.

Their eyes met across the room, and Tony kept his gaze firm. He wasn’t afraid any more.

Of course, he shouldn’t even have worried that much. Because a second later, Howard set his eyes on the next person in the room- the man he’d actually given a shit about: Steve Rogers. And of course, that was what inspired a reaction of delight and surprised out of him. He gasped loudly, taking a step forward.

Tony didn’t even get a second glance.

“They told me you were both coming,” he said, his voice breathy and sending an involuntary shiver down Tony’s spine. Pavlovian response. “I didn’t really believe it was true.”

Steve’s whole body was as taught as a tennis racket, but he forced a smile. “Surprise,” he said tightly. “Welcome to the future, Howard.”

The sharp clack of his trademark shoes across a tiled floor was something Tony had thought he’d never have to hear again. It was funny, how the little things got to you the most. He had to forcibly tell himself not to take a step back at the advancing sound. Howard didn’t even care about him anyway- Tony was pretty sure he’d forgotten he was even there, too fixated on Steve.

“This is the most fascinating thing that’s ever happened to me,” Howard gushed, and just for a second, Tony felt his stomach turn at the familiarity of his voice, of the tone and gestures he made with his hands. He saw it in the mirror every fucking day. Tony had always been told they were similar; that they shared the same traits, rambled in the same way when they were excited and moved their hands with the same sharp movements, but still. It was hard to see in the flesh. “I knew you were out there. I just knew it. I’ve been looking for you, you know. All these years. Was it me that found you? Tell me it was.”

“I can’t,” Steve said, “you shouldn’t know anything about the future other than what is strictly necessary. Sorry.”

Howard paused, but then he just sighed, raising his hands in defeat. “I know,” he said grimly, “sorry. Get carried away, that’s all. But I understand the basic rules of this whole time travel thing that’s happening. Although I can’t say I have any idea how it happened.”

“Again, a need-to-know basis,” Tony cut in, stepping forward, “hello Howard. Nice to see you again. I’d spend a bit more time catching up, but we’re on a schedule. We have to get you home as fast as possible, just to prevent any universal fuckups. I’m going to need to pick your brain, if that’s okay.”

Tony looked him in the eye and didn’t back down. Behind him, Steve was a comforting presence, huge and towering, and Tony knew that Howard wouldn’t even dare breathe wrong in front of his precious Captain America.

Howard watched him for a moment. There was nothing in his eyes- none of the pride or happiness there had been upon seeing Steve. “That’s fine,” he said curtly, “shall we sit down? I have quite a bit to run through.”

 

They worked for hours, running through the hypothesises easily, with a flow that Tony truly hated. They had a similar thought process, and if it hadn’t made Tony want to throw up so badly, he would have admired the speed at which they managed to get their work done. In the corner, Steve simply watched on, the muscles in his arms tight and body on edge. He smiled whenever Howard glanced at him though, and Howard was self-centred enough not to see the repulsion behind his eyes, so they were all good. Tony could get through this.

Then there was another alert, but this time Tony heard it from Steve’s phone.

He and Howard both turned, watching as Steve pulled the thing from his pocket and glanced at it. Tony hurried over, raising his eyebrows. “What’ve we got?” He asked.

Steve’s eyes widened. “Another time traveller. Loki, again. They…” He swallowed, and then looked up at Tony. “They’re saying it’s Morita. Why the hell would Loki displace Morita?”

Tony frowned. “I’ve got no idea. You need to go though- the message says he’s freaking out. A familiar face will do him good.”

Steve shook his head, eyes flicking to Howard. “I’m sure they’ll manage to calm him down soon enough-“

Steve,” Tony placed his hand against Steve’s cheek, thumb rubbing along the undersocket of his eye and smiling. “Go see your friend. I’ll be fine.”

For a moment, Steve looked conflicted. But then he swallowed and tilted his head, kissing Tony’s palm and clutching it against his face for a second. “Alright,” he said, “but I’ll come back. Call if you need me, okay?”

He stood up hurriedly, and Tony leaned up to kiss him quickly, a smile on his face that was actually half-real this time. He watched until Steve slipped entirely out of the door, before turning back to Howard.

The man was stood stock-still, glaring at Tony in a mixture of disgust and disbelief.

Right. The whole gay thing. He’d forgotten quite how much Howard had despised that. It’d just gotten lost among the long list of many.

He expected an insult. But Howard said nothing. After a second, he just shook his head once and then turned back to the drawing board. “Anyway. As I was saying, I think if we just increased the magnetic polarity by a factor of three, we might be able to actually get a shift that can remain stable for a safe enough period of time-“

Tony stood at the back of the room, mildly surprised at the lack of an outburst. But he rolled with it- he was good at that- and simply threw out another idea, listening to Howard as he expanded on it seamlessly.

In another world, Tony could have learned so much from him.

 

Of course, though, the peace didn’t last long. Tony should have fucking known.

 

They were in a period of silence; both of them simply sat working at their desks, trying to solve the problem that was halting their progress. Tony was absorbed in it, but after a few moments, he felt the uncanny sensation that he was being watched.

When he looked up, it was to Howard’s unforgiving stare.

You’re not afraid of him, he told himself, as he cocked an eyebrow in question. You’ve beaten up terrorists with your bare hands.

“So,” Howard began, his voice soft in a way that Tony knew just spelt danger, “you managed to corrupt the one uncorruptible thing in the world, too. That’s a new record, Anthony.”

And just like that, Tony was seven and Howard was sneering down at him, telling him he was broken and useless and a hopeless case, and he simply couldn’t breathe.

“What?” He asked, keeping his voice casual.

Howard just laughed bitterly, head jerking over to the door. “You managed to turn Captain America into a queer, just like you. What’d you do, throw yourself at him until he just gave in? That’s what you do with most of the boys.”

Tony just rolled his eyes. “Shut the fuck up, Howard.”

Whoops. Howard stood up, suddenly seething. “Don’t fucking talk to me like that, you little shit. I gave you everything you got now. I gave you your company, your brain- I gave you your goddamn Captain America. You wouldn’t have become jack-shit without me there to push you up and you know it.”

Tony ground his teeth, suddenly absolutely, unwaveringly furious. He stood as well, levelling his best glare at Howard from over the desk. “You were never there anyway, Howard. You remember all those Christmases we spent together, huh? All those great life lessons you taught me? Oh wait, no, you don’t, because that never fucking happened,” he spat, fist grinding into the papers on the table, “you never gave a shit. Ever. You didn’t even try. So yes, I did do it all on my own, and I got a damn sight further than you ever will, in half the time it took.”

“Yeah, and I wish I had,” Howard said through a shark-toothed smile, “I should’ve sent you off to boarding school earlier, gotten the queer beaten out of you. Should’ve put my foot down when you were younger about all that fairy shit you loved doing. I should’ve seen this coming. Now you’re just some pathetic little pansy who I doubt anyone really respects, you’re undoubtedly dragging my company through the mud, and you’ve managed to corrupt Steve Rogers on top of it all. You were always a vain little shit- I never knew you could be that damn ungrateful.”

Tony laughed loudly at that, feeling everything bubble up to the surface, a wave of pure venom. “You talk about Steve as if I’m the only one of us who loves him. Don’t think I don’t fucking know, dad. You’re just as queer as me- you spent your life trying to find him, and you really think I didn’t catch on that you were in love with him? How does it feel, Howard?” He asked, cocking his head lightly, “how does it feel to know that you dedicated your life to him, and then in the end, the only one he’s fucking is your son?”

He almost expected the punch. If he’d been thinking clearly, he would’ve dodged it. It wouldn’t have been hard.

But he wasn’t thinking clearly. He was thinking like he was seventeen years old, in a screaming match with his dad, who, at the time, was bigger and stronger and more powerful than him, and who would’ve just beat him bloody if he’d attempted to fight back.

So the knuckles landed on his cheek and sent him spinning, forcing him to the floor with a heavy thud.

He gasped, stars exploding behind his eyes. Up above, Howard was screaming bloody murder, spitting and cursing his name. Tony heard those stupid fucking shoes as they marched around the desk, obviously ready for round two. Tony knew he’d hit a nerve- it had been the thing he’d never dared mention while Howard had been alive, but he’d still known. Of course he had. Howard had looked at the Captain America posters in the exact same way that Tony had used to.

Tony stumbled back to his feet, blinking rapidly and feeling hot blood from Howard’s ring ooze down his cheek. He turned, just in time for Howard to grab him by the lapels and then force him into the wall, head slamming into the concrete roughly.

“You haven’t fucking changed, not one single bit,” he spat in Tony’s face, and he smelled like Whiskey and hatred and Tony’s childhood, “you’re worthless, the worst mistake of my entire fucking life- I wish I’d never fucking had you, all you ever were was a disappointment-“

Tony shoved him off violently, because he was stronger than Howard now, and he could actually do that. He bent his knees and got ready to throw a punch that would knock the bastard the fuck out- fuck protocols, fuck SHIELD, he’d had this coming for a long time and if worst came to worst, they could just pump him with a memory loss drug-

Before he even could, though, there was the tremendously loud sound of two doors slamming into the walls, and both Howard and Tony jerked in surprise, just in time to watch as Steve careened into the room at full force, the look on his face angrier and carved in more fury than Tony had ever seen before. Ever.

In less than a second, Steve had crossed the room. And in the blink of an eye, Howard no longer stood in front of him. Instead, he was pinned to the wall on the opposite side of the room, high enough that his toes didn’t even touch the floor.

“You piece of shit,” Steve snarled, punching him across the face, hard. Howard’s head snapped back, and he grunted in pain, “you fucking sick bastard, who the fuck do you think you are, saying shit like that- he’s your son-“

“Steve,” Tony started running forward, knowing that Steve was currently in a place in which he wouldn’t be able to stop of his own accord, “Steve, put him down-“

He could hear agents running down the corridor, their footsteps echoing through the space where the doors should have been, had Steve not ripped them off in his haste. Steve still hadn’t let go though, and Howard was slowly turning purple.

“You think you’re a better man than Tony?” Steve hissed, shaking him hard enough that his head knocked against the concrete again. Howard was starting to bleed from his nose, which was very obviously broken. “You think you have even a scratch on that man? Well let me tell you this- you are nothing in comparison to him. Nothing. You’re a sack of shit, Howard, and I never liked you. I’m glad you didn’t find me. I’m glad you lived your life in misery. It’s what you fucking deserved-“

“Steve!” Tony said again, realizing Howard’s lips were turning blue, “Steve, put him down, now.”

It took another moment, but then Steve glanced over to Tony, apparently snapping out of his rage. With a final growl, he threw Howard a few feet away carelessly with one hand, not even bothering to look at him as he hurried over to Tony.

With Howard choking pathetically in the background, Steve’s hands curled delicately across Tony’s injured jaw, inspecting the wound. It was such a drastic change from the force he had exuded barely even a second ago, Tony was almost overwhelmed with it. “Is it fractured, do you think?” Steve whispered quietly, ignoring the yells of the agents as they all charged into the room and swarmed.

Tony gently moved it, and then shook his head. “Probably looks worse than it is,” he admitted, voice rough, “Howard always liked that studded ring.”

Steve wiped his ring finger delicately over the trail of blood that dripped down the slash on Tony’s cheek, shaking his head as the anger returned to his eyes. SHIELD agents were picking Howard up, undoubtedly carrying him off to medical to get his nose fixed and his memories wiped, and a few of them were pointing their guns nervously at Steve, as if they expected him to just launch into attack mode at any second.

Which, y’know, wasn’t actually an impossibility.

Steve leaned down, knocking their foreheads together. “I shouldn’t have left,” he whispered. Tony noticed his hands were shaking. “I’m so sorry, I fucking knew this would happen, I’m so so sorry-“

“Shush,” Tony said with a small smile, even though it hurt. “You just choked my father half to death. That’s good enough for me, sweetheart.”

Steve just shook his head, kissing Tony’s eyelids, his forehead, both cheeks, making sure to go lightly across the injured one.

“Seriously Steve, I’m okay,” Tony croaked, nodding. “He just solidified everything I already knew about him. He’s a closed-minded, pathetic douche. And in our timeline, he’s dead. So this will be the last time we ever see him. I think I’ve worked out how to send him back now anyway, so they can just keep him in medical and away from all of us until we can zap him back.”

Steve breathed in, then nodded sharply. He stepped back, dropping his hands down into Tony’s. His eyes were wide and upset. He looked like a lost puppy, as opposed to the fearless ragemonster that had charged into the room a minute ago. “I heard what he said,” he whispered, “I kept the commlink on, so I could come back if you needed me. As soon as I heard it start, I came, but I was all the way across the base and it took a minute to get to y-“

Tony kissed him quiet before he could ramble himself into a complete wreck. “Steve,” he said, dropping his forehead into Steve’s sternum, “just take me home. Please? I don’t- I just want to be home, now.”

Immediately, Steve straightened up and nodded, winding his arm around Tony’s waist and gripping tight, grounding him. He pulled them off immediately, practically snarling at any of the agents who even looked like they were about to argue. They both walked down the corridors and then took a swift exit, slipping out into the parking lot and then into the car a few moments later.

Tony turned to Steve with a tight smile. He felt shaken in a way that was sickeningly familiar. Tense and on-edge, like a fucking child again.

“If it’s any help, being corrupted by you was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” Steve told him with a small smile.

Tony bust out laughing, shaking his head wearily and then tilting sideways, leaning his temple into Steve’s shoulder.

“I love you so much,” he said softly, “I honestly… so much, Steve, so so much.”

Steve turned, pressing his mouth into the crown of Tony’s head. They remained like that, silent, for a few moments, before he heard Steve mutter “I don’t care if takes the rest of my life- I will take everything he made you believe and I will make you see how wrong he was.”

Tony grinned. “Careful. Might hold you to that, Rogers.”

Steve just made a huffing noise in the back of his throat, and then suddenly Tony felt the drag as Steve accelerated forward with speed. “Good. Now let’s go and see how much our family have destroyed while we’ve been out.”

“Ten bucks says one of the floors is gone.”

“You’re on.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

It was a Sunday morning.

 

Tony knew it was a Sunday morning, because he’d woken up and Steve was still in bed with him as opposed to on his morning jog. This was the one day that he took off, and Tony sure loved using that to his advantage. There was something remarkably invigorating about morning sex- worked even better than coffee, in Tony’s humble opinion.

However, he knew immediately that this wasn’t one of those days. For one thing, Steve’s morning paper was crinkling in his hand, which meant that he must also have gone downstairs and put the bacon on, which also meant that they weren’t going to have time for any sex at all unless they wanted the bacon to burn. And Steve hated waste, so that was highly unlikely.

Boo hoo.

The other thing was the fact that Tony could feel Steve’s ballpoint pen trail lightly over a space on Tony’s bare hip. And maybe it was a little sad, but Tony would actually postpone sex just so that he could get Steve to doodle on him for as long as possible. It was an absent-minded action more than anything, and it only happened when Steve was sleepy or needed something to do with his hands as he worked. In this instance, Tony figured he was trying to work out the daily crossword. But Tony loved it; it tickled in the best way, and of course, Steve’s art was always amazing. Tony absolutely hated when he had to wash it off.

He sighed in contentment, shuffling a little closer into Steve’s side and kissing his shoulder in a good-morning greeting. Steve briefly lifted the pen to squeeze Tony’s waist in acknowledgement, but then got right back into his little zone of thought again, staring down at his crossword with his tongue poking out from his mouth, and the pen tracing loops into Tony’s hip.

Tony looked up at him, feeling something so impossibly warm settle in his chest, it really should’ve hurt. But it didn’t. It absolutely did not.

I’m going to marry you one day, he thought to himself, and it didn’t even scare him.

He dozed lazily against Steve’s side, letting the minutes slip by carelessly. Steve was a warm and constant pressure on his side, and in that moment, there honestly was not a single other place Tony would ever wish to be. He let his eyes slide open again, staring across the room and over to the faint sunlight that slipped in and out of the curtains flittering in the cool breeze. Steve liked to keep the room cool- thank god the guy ran like a hot water bottle, or Tony would’ve had serious problems with that foolishness.

Then he turned his gaze down to his hip, finally looking at what it was that Steve was drawing on him this time. It took a second before Steve’s hand moved away and gave Tony a clear view, but when it did, he was not disappointed.

It was fairly simple. Four flowers; a peony, a carnation, a rose, and a marigold, interspersed with little leaves and trails of vines that swirled around it all. Steve was barely even concentrating on it, simply glancing at it every few seconds to check his lines were still going steady.

It was… absolutely wonderful.

Tony felt his breath catch in his throat, overwhelmed for no reason. Since he started dating Steve one and a half years ago, Tony had found his world suddenly full of flowers again. Hand-picked whilst Steve had been on his jog in central park, and then kept on the windowsill by Tony and meticulously cared for. Single roses, bought on a whim and sent to Tony’s office on the longer nights. Carnations that Steve would slide behind Tony’s ear without warning and then simply wander off, not a word mentioned about it.

Sometimes Steve would sit him on the bed, tuck wildflowers into his hair, sprinkle the petals on his lap and around the sheets next to him, and then just sit down at his easel to paint. He… genuinely found Tony beautiful when he was like that. For some reason. Tony couldn’t quite understand that just yet, but he was working on it.

Loving the things he did without the lingering remains of shame was still difficult, but with Steve it as just… easier. He worked to make it easy for Tony. Every day, with the little things. There wasn’t a single person in the world like Steve Rogers, and that was something Tony would bet every penny of his money on.

The idea came to him with the suddenness and intensity of a tsunami, completely taking over his thoughts.

Sitting up suddenly, he turned to Steve and then beamed when the man looked over to him with confusion. “I need to go for a few hours,” he blurted, kissing Steve quickly.

“Huh?” Was all Steve responded with, as Tony stumbled out of bed and then searched for a shirt he could throw on.

“I just remembered that I have a thing,” Tony said, eventually finding Steve’s shirt and throwing that on instead. “It’s probably going to take up the whole morning. But I’ll be back before… one, maybe two? I dunno. I’ll see you later, love you!”

Steve just stared at him in dumb confusion as Tony swept out of the room like a hurricane, moving from barely even conscious to high-alert in the space of a few seconds. He slipped from the room and shut the door behind him, and then bounced down the stairs with excitement. “JARVIS, cancel all my meetings today.”

“Sir, I really don’t think that is a good idea, Miss Potts has repeatedly warned she will be a threat to your safety if you don’t attend the meeting with the Egypt team-“

“Just do it, J!” Tony laughed and waved a careless hand over to the camera. “I have an appointment.”

“With whom, exactly?”

Tony looked up to the ceiling- a habit he’d stolen from Steve- and winked. “You’ll find out soon enough,” was all he said, before he jumped into the elevator and took it right down into the garage.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

It was actually only 12 in the afternoon when Tony arrived back to the tower.

He stepped through the elevator doors and looked around the communal kitchen. It was empty, which was expected- Clint and Natasha would both be at SHIELD, Bruce would be down in the labs, and Thor would undoubtedly be distracting him in said labs.

“Where’s Steve?” Tony asked, dropping his keys onto the counter.

“He is currently sketching on the roof, Sir,” JARVIS answered, and Tony nodded, immediately making his way over to the staircase that led up to the rooftop. His heart was beginning to beat nervously in his chest. He was nervous about Steve’s reaction; it had been an impulse decision, Tony could freely admit that.

It absolutely wasn’t one that he regretted though, that was for sure.

Slipping out onto the rooftop, he immediately spotted the tuft of blond hair that stuck out from over the top of the deck chair that Steve always used when he wanted to draw. Tony smiled, making his footsteps heavy so that he didn’t surprise the man and end up ruining whatever he was drawing.

Steve heard the sound, of course, and he turned. When he spotted Tony, he smiled back. “Ah! He returns!”

“Told you I would, didn’t I?” Tony asked in amusement, wandering further forward with his hands in his pockets. “I’m even earlier than I said I’d be. Lucky you. You get to spend even more time with me.”

“What was it that you rushed off for anyway?” Steve asked, shuffling around on his chair and putting his sketchbook down so that he could focus his whole attention on Tony. “You’re never usually that awake in the morning.”

Tony took a small breath. Moment of truth.

Wordlessly, he pulled up his shirt- and then watched is Steve’s eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open.

“So I had an idea when you were in the middle of drawing all over me,” Tony began as Steve jerked unsteadily to his feet and moved forward, his hands outstretched. “I… I realized I’d never gotten a tattoo before, but I’d always wanted one. I could just never think of a design I’d want to keep there for the rest of my life. Until. Uh. This morning, I guess.”

Steve’s hands settled down upon the sensitive skin, as gentle as ever. He traced the outline of the red carnation, the pink peony, the orange marigold, all with a look of utter disbelief on his face. He looked up at Tony. “This is permanent?” He whispered.

Tony laughed, running his fingers through Steve’s hair. “That’s the point of a tattoo, babe,” he said in amusement.

Steve looked back down at it, before blinking. “But.. you don’t- I mean, you’re not… you don’t usually express this part of you,” he dragged the words out with a frown, as if he disliked even saying them.

Tony nodded. “You’re right. I don’t. But what I’ve noticed is that you tend to bring out the best in me, Steve Rogers. I thought…” he shrugged, looking away, “maybe it’s time to stop being so afraid of what people will think. I like flowers and the colour pink and wearing things that make me look nice. I love ballet and my favourite movie is the Princess Bride and I’m not nearly as cool as I try to make myself seem, and that’s fine. I’ve got a really cool boyfriend to make up for that.” He grinned down at Steve and felt his cheeks flush a little, all the emotions simmering up to the surface in a way that felt wonderfully freeing.

Steve was absolutely beaming at him. He pressed a kiss against Tony’s hip, now coloured with pastel flowers, and then stood up suddenly, grabbing Tony under the thighs and lifting him up with enthusiasm. Tony laughed loudly, holding onto Steve’s shoulders as the man spun him around in delight. “Do you know how happy that makes me?” He asked, looking up at Tony in a way that, a year and a half ago, Tony would never have believed anyone would ever have done. “Very, very happy.”

He dropped Tony down a bit, just so he could kiss him soundly, and Tony could admit, as far as technique went, they were both left very much lacking- there was just too much smiling for it to be any good at all.

Tony didn’t care. Not even a little bit. He still thought it was amazing.

“Good luck getting rid of me now,” he mumbled into Steve’s mouth, feeling the other man’s hand as it slid up to rest possessively over the fresh tattoo against Tony’s hip. “I’ve got an original Steve Rogers art piece on my body. I could sell myself for millions.”

“Or you could come to bed with me right now and I’ll show you just how much it’s worth to me.”

Tony paused, thinking about it. Then he shrugged. “I think I could do that, yeah,” he declared in the end, and Steve’s eyes shone like dew on morning grass when he looked up at Tony.

And maybe Tony would never stop hating himself. Maybe the doubts and the internalized shame would always be there. But when Steve was there, and when Steve looked at him like that, it felt a lot easier to tell that voice to shut the fuck up.

He was happy. He was fucking happy, and that was… it was more than what Tony would ever have expected, to be honest.

 

Later that evening, when they were both lying in bed, sweaty and exhausted, Steve leaned over to his ear and whispered “d’ya think tattoos’d work on a super soldier?”

Tony turned to him, his loose grin filling up his face as looked up at Steve’s cheeky stare. “You know- I think we might be able to figure something out, Steve.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 Epilogue

 

 

 

“So,” Marcus, their interviewer, crossed his legs and sat forward in interest, eyes flitting over both Steve and Tony, “tell us the story behind all your tattoos. You seem to match with the floral pattern here, and I think everyone’s dying to know where the inspiration came from.”

Tony looked over to Steve, and then raised an eyebrow. “Am I allowed to take my shirt off on live TV?” He asked wryly.

In the stands, the audience all wolf whistled and cheered whilst Tony just grinned back at them. Marcus looked slightly surprised, but then he smiled and nodded smoothly. Without further ado, Tony pulled off his shirt, handing it over to Steve, who simply took it and then sat back, watching as Tony stood in the middle of the set, shirt off, smiling like an idiot.

“I’ve gone through a bit of a midlife crisis these past five years,” Tony informed Marcus swiftly, pointing to the four flowers on his hip, now just beginning to start fading, “starting with this bad boy right here. An impulse decision, really. Best impulse decision I’ve ever made.” He turned to Steve and smiled, before shuffling over and then lifting up Steve’s shirt, revealing the matching design on Steve’s opposing hip. “This is one of the two tattoos that are exactly matching. He got it done specially, by Doctor Banner, seeing as normal tattoos wouldn’t work on him.”

“And then I assume you caught the inking bug,” Marcus raised an amused eyebrow, gesturing to the rest of Tony’s body that was littered with various patterns and floral designs.

He nodded, raising his hand to the ones that were resting on his sternum. They marked the outer casing of his arc reactor and encircled the whole thing. “These are my roses and daffodils. Roses for second chances and love, obviously, daffodils for rebirth, and then I’ve got some little sweet peas looping around the whole thing.” He winked, tapping the light in his chest. “They represent good luck, you know? Nice to know my ticker’s got a good omen over it.”

Marcus hummed, then looked to Steve. “And I take it you got one similar to that?”

Steve nodded, holding up his right hand. On his wrist, the same sweet pea vines encircled his skin like a bracelet. “It’s my shield-hand,” he explained, a smile tugging at his mouth, “again, for good luck. Like to have good aim.”

Tony giggled at Steve’s bashful face and then twisted around to face the cameras, pulling up the hair just above his ear. “And this! This one is one of my favourites. It’s a carnation. Steve likes to put them behind my ear when I’m not looking or I’m too busy focusing on something else to acknowledge it, so I figured, why not make it permanent?” The small red flower barely peeked out onto the skin of his cheek, but you could just about see it if you looked close enough.

Steve, without prompting this time, shuffled around on his chair and then pulled down the back of his collar, exposing the bottom of his hairline where a fairly small, blue tattoo lay. “A hydrangea,” he stated, before shuffling back into place and then looking back to Tony, the softest look on his face. “It reminds me of Tony. And it’s on the back of my neck because Tony likes to spoon me in his sleep, and- uh- that’s the place he kisses when he wakes up.”

The crowd awwwed, and Tony just laughed at the sight of Steve’s cheeks getting steadily pinker. Even Marcus seemed rather enamoured with the stories behind them, and he started to look genuinely amused by the pair of them.

“And The white flowers?” He asked, gesturing to both Steve and Tony’s chests, “they’re daisy chains, right?”

Tony smiled, one hand settling over the chain right above his heart, just to the left of the reactor, and then the other pressing down onto Steve’s shoulder. It was Steve who answered that one, a fond look in his eyes as he stared up at Tony and explained: “they were the flowers we picked for our wedding. Loyalty, love, and patience. Which we need quite a lot of, sometimes,” he raised an eyebrow to the audience, who all laughed. Tony pulled a face and smacked him gently over the head.

“I don’t see why- I’m an absolute delight.”

“Tell that to me next time you’ve been down in the workshop for twenty hours straight and you’re talking only in Italian, which, by the way, I do not speak.”

The audience started laughing again, and Marcus used that as an excuse to ask another question whilst Tony and Steve were quiet. “And what is the biggest tattoo that either of you have?”

Tony and Steve both turned around at that, and Steve quickly tugged off his own shirt and passed it off to Tony, earning another round of wolf whistles from the crowd. Tony bumped shoulders with Steve, making a gesture with his hands. “You first,” he muttered.

Steve shuffled, and then pointed to the long, winding stem that ran from the top of his spine to the centre of his tailbone. “A gladiolus,” he explained, “when Tony told me that it represented strength of character, morality, honour- well, I thought it’d just be fitting,” he said with an embarrassed shrug, and then pushed Tony the shoulder when he got the crowd to sing the first verse of ‘star spangled man with a plan’.

Once they’d settled down, though, Tony turned back around, exposing his back to the crowd once more. It had been years now, and yet he still felt the tiniest flutter of nervousness at showing the world the story behind his biggest mark.

Steve let his hand rest gently over his hip, where their first tattoo lay. Tony looked down at him and smiled, his own hand coming to rest over Steve’s.

“This was the flower press that my Butler, Jarvis, gave to me when I was ten,” Tony traced the outline of the box that rested between his shoulderblades. “It was lovely. The first one I’d gotten. I was heading of to boarding school, and leaving my garden behind. Jarvis handed this to me while I was about to leave, and said that I could take a piece of the garden with me.” He blinked at the memory, swallowing down the urge to curse on live television, “it was… Jarvis was the person who was there for me most, in my childhood years. He loved me. I figured I just wanted to- I dunno, pay my respects I guess? He did a lot for me.” He shrugged, looking down. “I loved him like a father.”

There was silence in the large auditorium; everyone caught off guard by Tony Stark speaking seriously about something. Marcus nodded solemnly, and then smiled. “Well, I’m sure he’d be pretty pleased with himself if he found out you became a man who saved the world on a bi-weekly basis.”

Tony grinned. “No, he’d slap me over the head and tell me to stop being so ridiculous by putting myself in so much danger.”

“That’s what I say too,” Steve piped up, causing more laughs, “he doesn’t listen though. Because he’s an ass.”

Tony whipped around to him. “You say that like you’re any better.”

“I am fairly indestructible.”

“That is… so not the point-“

“It actually kind of is, considering the line of work we’re in-“

Tony shut him up by throwing Steve’s own shirt at him. Steve retaliated by throwing Tony’s shirt into the crowd, losing it forever. Tony then attempted to tackle him, which didn’t exactly work out too well, considering the size and weight difference.

Tony realized why Pepper never let either of them go on talk shows very much. They didn’t act much like superheroes. More like five year olds.

 

Ah well. Beggars cant be choosers.