The important thing to know - and I mean really, the actually important thing - is that no matter what Bucky said, Steve was not flirting with Tony Stark.
(“Yes you were, you son of a - ”)
“Hey Steve, can I talk to you for a sec?” Bucky said, nodding toward the corner of the room.
“Course,” Steve said. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing, just, you know, what the hell was that?” Bucky said.
“What the hell was what?” Steve said.
“You!” Bucky said. “Just now! With Tony!”
“Uh,” Steve said, “what?”
“Tony fucking Stark!”
“Yeah, I know which Tony you’re talking about, what are you - ”
“Talking?” Bucky said. “You were flirting.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Steve said.
“You were doing that whole aw-shucks-ain’t-I-cute act that used to get you out of phys ed - ”
“I have literally no idea what you’re talking about,” Steve said blankly.
“Suuure you don’t,” Bucky said. “You know who’s gonna have something to say about this? Sam.”
“Oh my god, do not - ”
“SAM!” Bucky hollered over his shoulder.
“ - call for Sam, there is nothing to - ”
“WHAT?” Sam yelled back.
“Come over here and slap some sense into Steve, will ya?”
Sam jogged over. “What’d he do now?”
“He was flirting with Stark.”
Sam whirled on Steve. “You were what?”
“I was not flirting with Tony, and by the way can we all keep our voices down?”
“He was,” Bucky said to Sam.
“Bucky is completely making this up,” Steve said.
“Was he doing the eyes?” Sam said as if Steve wasn’t even in the room.
“Yes!” Bucky said. “And the face.”
“Jesus,” Sam said. “Tony? Really?”
“We were talking about the tensile strength of Bruce’s pants,” Steve said. “I can’t even think of a less flirtatious topic, and also, what are you talking about, ‘the face’? I don’t have a face - ”
“Oh yes you do,” Sam said. “You absolutely have a face. It’s that thing where you’re kind of smiling, but also like, ‘Don’t worry about anything, ma’am, I’ve got it all under control.’”
“Except in this case what you have under control is Tony Stark’s dick,” Bucky said.
“You’re both losing your minds,” Steve said.
“He’s flirting with Tony but we’re the ones losing our minds?” Sam said.
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” Steve said. “Do either of you want a drink?”
“After this conversation? Yeah, I could use one,” Sam said.
“Me too,” Bucky said.
“Well too bad, you’re not getting one from me,” Steve said.
“That’s cold, man!” Sam called after him.
Steve shrugged and merged into the crowd. The bar across the room was busy - the bar at ex-SHIELD parties always were; spies know how to party - and Steve joined the back of the throng to wait his turn.
“So what was all that about?”
Steve glanced up from his phone as Tony appeared at his elbow. “All what?”
“Barnes and Wilson looked like they were tearing you a new one.”
“They were just fooling around.”
“Looked pretty serious to me,” Tony said.
“It wasn’t,” Steve said. “It was just...”
“Just what?” Tony said.
And here’s the problem: later, when it was all said and done, Steve could never track why he said what he said. It was the only part of the whole thing he couldn’t quite work out. It’d come to him, one day. Maybe.
“It was just that Buck thought I was flirting with you,” Steve said.
“With me?” Tony said, sounding delighted.
“Stupid, right?” Steve said with a chuckle.
“So stupid,” Tony said. “Wanna make him pay for it?”
“I know, it’s so - wait, what?”
“He messed with you, right? Yanked your chain. So we’ll mess with him right back,” Tony said.
“What do you mean?”
Tony leaned closer and put a hand on Steve’s arm. “This definitely isn’t flirting. This is hatching an evil plan to destroy your best friend, who is definitely watching us right now. But it looks like flirting.”
“You’d make a hell of a supervillain,” Steve said, clinking his glass to Tony’s.
“Not really my aesthetic,” Tony said, and, with one last lingering touch on Steve’s arm, he was gone.
“Beans, meat, and at least one other ingredient,” Bucky said.
“So if it’s vegetarian, it’s not a burrito?” Bruce asked.
“Why would anyone bother with a vegetarian burrito?” Sam said, wrinkling his nose.
“I don’t agree about the beans,” Thor said. “I’m not a fan of beans.”
“So what would you include over beans?” Natasha asked.
“Salsa!” Thor said. “Lettuce! Cream that has soured! Anything above beans.”
“Okay, but what’s the minimum requirement?” Bruce said.
“I still maintain beans or meat,” Natasha said.
“You’re a heathen,” Sam said.
“Can I make cheese a requirement?” Thor said. “Who would I speak to about instituting such a law?”
“We’re not actually legislating burritos,” Bruce said. “We’re trying to decide what qualifies in the first place.”
“Anybody want seconds?” Steve said, popping the last bite of his burrito in his mouth.
“Is this the burrito argument again?” Tony said on his way into the kitchen.
“I wouldn’t say argument,” Bruce said. “I would say long-running and ultimately meaningless feud.”
“You’re not welcome because of your weird rice thing,” Bucky said.
“Rice thing?” said Steve, who honestly hadn’t really followed the What Is A Burrito debate that had been taking place in Avengers tower for the better part of a decade.
“He says a burrito has to have rice,” Sam said. “Even though everyone knows rice is better next to a burrito.”
“He’s better than Clint,” Natasha said darkly. “Clint thinks a hot dog should count as a burrito.”
Everyone took a moment to shudder.
“What do you think, Cap?” Tony said, whirling on Steve.
“I think that whoever makes the burritos doesn’t have to contribute to clean-up,” Steve said, leaning back in his seat and smiling.
“Steve’s culinary opinions aren’t welcome here, ” Bucky dismissed. “He’ll eat anything that’s not growing fur.”
Steve arched an eyebrow. “I’ll have you know - ”
“Blah, blah, Great Depression,” Sam said. “Bucky grew up same as you and still throws away food that’s expired.”
“It’s a sell by date, not an eat by date,” Steve said.
“And you guys let him cook?” Tony said.
“In retrospect, maybe not our wisest collective decision,” Sam said.
“I make a mean burrito by any definition,” Steve said.
“Even Nat’s insane one,” Bucky said.
“Your death will not be painless,” Natasha said.
“I’ll stick to my smoothies, thanks,” Tony said.
“You’re missing out,” Steve said with a shrug.
“I’m sure I am,” Tony said, and winked theatrically at Steve. “Catch you guys later.”
Steve smothered a grin and glanced at Bucky and Sam, who had turned to each other with horror. “See you, Tony,” Steve called after Tony’s retreating back, just to pile on.
“The thing is,” Bruce said obliviously, “we’ve never decided if the argument is actually about form, or if it’s about function. Is a wrapping component required, and would that make ‘burrito bowl’ an oxymoron?”
“That way lies madness,” Sam said.
Steve’s phone buzzed. Did they see my wink?
People living on the moon saw your wink, Steve typed. You’re laying it on a little thick.
No such thing, Tony shot back. My baseline with everyone is so flirtatious that I have to turn it up to 11 for it to register. Wait, do you think there are people living on the moon? Who told you there were people living on the moon?
But even a little bit would make a statement, considering you’re not usually flirtatious with me, Steve wrote, ignoring the moon question entirely.
Maybe you’ve just never noticed, Tony said. Winky face winky face winky face.
“What’re you smiling about?” Bucky said, snatching up his plate.
“Nothing,” Steve said, trying to look like he was trying to look innocent.
“A likely story,” Sam grumbled from the dishwasher.
“Guacamole,” Thor started, “is - ”
“No,” Natasha said.
Steve looked up from where Bucky was crouched across the mat, ready to spring. “You need something, Peter?”
“Oh, no, it’s just, uh,” Peter Parker said, “I have something, it’s from Mr. Stark, and he wanted me to deliver it to you.”
“You can put it by the door,” Steve said, eyeing Bucky warily.
“Um, actually, he wanted me to make sure you read it?” Peter said. “And he said I need to provide return service.”
“Return service?” Bucky said blankly, falling out of formation.
“It’s a note,” Peter said, jogging into the center of the mat and handing a single folded up square of paper to Steve.
“A note?” Sam said from where he was icing his shoulder. “What’s it say?”
“Nothing,” Steve said, pressing his lips together.
Bucky lunged; Steve was faster but Bucky was more determined, and with supersoldier-quick reflexes he snatched the note out of Steve’s hand without even tearing a corner.
“Oh, Jesus,” Bucky said, holding it out to Sam. “Are you kidding me?”
The note read:
Do you like me? Check one
Maybe, but only if you make me a super cool new iso-magnetic harness for my shield
And below it was a hastily sketched drawing of said harness, shield and all.
“No way,” Sam said.
“It’s a joke,” Steve said, completely honestly.
“It’s a weird joke,” Bucky said. “A very weird joke.”
“I don’t get it,” Peter said.
“Stark’s flirting with Cap,” Sam explained.
“Because Steve flirted with him first,” Bucky said.
“Nobody’s flirting with anybody,” Steve said soothingly.
“Okay,” Peter said, clearly uncertain as to how involved he was supposed to get in the relationships between the grown-up Avengers. “Um, do you need a pen? Because I’m not supposed to go back to him until you answer it.”
“Recruiting children into his little games,” Bucky said, sighing dramatically. “What will he think of next?”
“Actually,” Peter said, “I’m - ”
“I’ll take the pen, thanks,” Steve said. “Buck, turn around?”
Bucky’s jaw dropped, but he turned. Steve pressed the note to his back and circled Maybe, but crossed out the rest of it and scribbled, Not necessary thanks :)
“What’d you mark?” Bucky gritted out.
“Maybe,” Peter read off as Steve handed it back to him. “Oh, sorry. It’s just that I have really good eyesight, so I could - ”
“It’s fine,” Steve said. “You can take it back to him now, Pete.”
“Okay, cool,” Peter said, backing toward the door, “I’m gonna go, good to see you guys, bye!”
“Just a joke?” Sam said as the door swung shut behind Peter. “That’s a pretty elaborate thing to do for a joke, Steve.”
You have no idea, Steve thought. “He’s just messing around, can we drop it?”
“Gladly,” Bucky growled, taking Steve out at the waist.
“And that’s why you should never assume Twitter is right about all of the Avengers going on vacation to Cancun,” Peter said, wrapping up one last Doombot in webbing.
“Does that really seem like something we’d do?” Sam said, dropping his own decommissioned bot on the pile.
“Hulk like swimming,” the Hulk contributed, and squashed something in one large fist.
“I haven’t taken an actual vacation since 1996,” Tony said. “Their sources have a few screws loose.”
“These bots have a few screws loose,” Bucky grunted, punching a bot that was attempting to disappear down Park Ave. “Did they really think they could scale the Tower? Even if we’d actually been gone, so many lasers.”
“I think everybody was distracted by Nat’s bikini pic,” Sam said.
“Photoshop,” Natasha said.
Tony zoomed down from where he’d taken an aerial patrol. “I found Cap’s more distracting, myself.”
“You would,” Bucky muttered darkly.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you as a speedo guy, Steve,” Tony continued blithely. “Pursuit of happiness, indeed.”
“And I think that’s the last one,” Steve said, before the conversation got even less family-oriented than it already was. “Any sign of Doom?”
“Pretty sure he abandoned ship once it he realized the team hadn’t gone on spring break,” Natasha said.
“All right, let’s get started on clean-up, then,” Steve said. “Who’s on explosives disposal duty this week?”
“Not me,” a chorus of voices piped up.
“Not Hulk,” Hulk said, on a slight delay.
“Do we really need to go back to the chore wheel?” Steve said tiredly.
“Excuse me, Captain America?” Somebody had pushed through the line of selfie-takers and gawkers and run right up to the NYPD perimeter. “Sorry, I have a delivery for Captain America, can I - ”
“Oh, my god,” Bucky said faintly, staring past Steve.
Steve turned around -
- and was nearly hit in the face with a bouquet of roses.
No. Bouquet was the wrong word. It was a veritable garden: the delivery guy was struggling under the weight of what had to be several hundred roses in every shade of red, white, and blue known to floristkind.
“That’s excessive,” Natasha commented.
“They're usually ordered for racehorses - um, can you sign here, sir?” the delivery guy squeaked, shifting the absurd spray into one arm and shoving an iPad in Steve’s direction.
“Who are they from?” Peter said, swinging down and easily lifting the bouquet out of the delivery guy’s failing arms.
“There’s a card,” Natasha said. She dug through the roses and extracted it. “May I?”
“By all means,” Steve said, handing the overwhelmed-looking delivery guy back his iPad.
“Great work out there today, Cap. America’s lucky to have you. From, Your Secret Admirer,” Natasha read. “And then there’s ten winking emojis.”
“Wow,” Tony said seriously. “Somebody really likes you.”
“Are you kidding me?” Sam said. “Your secret admirer? Are you in junior high?”
“I think it’s kinda sweet,” Steve said, swallowing his laughter.
“Any idea who they’re from?” said Natasha, who Steve was absolutely certain knew exactly who they were from and was, for reasons entirely her own, choosing not to share.
“Not a clue,” Steve said firmly.
“You’re not bringing those home, are you?” Sam called out. “You know how my allergies get, man.”
“Spiderman, take them to Mount Sinai, will you?” Steve said. “But first - ”
He reached out and snagged one dark red rose.
“Just in case,” he said, giving the rest of the team a shy smile.
“I’m gonna puke,” Bucky said, stomping back toward the tower.
“Morning,” Steve said.
“Mrf,” grunted Bucky, a man who even supersoldier serum couldn’t make into a Morning Person.
Steve went back to his paper. “Coffee’s already on.”
It was nice, Steve thought, sitting in the companionable pre-dawn silence with his best friend; the only sound was the crinkle of the cereal bag, the clink of Bucky putting his industrial-sized mug of coffee down on the counter, and -
If you’re horny, let’s do it.
Steve and Bucky both jumped and looked down at Steve’s phone.
Ridin my pony -
“Is that,” Bucky said, his mouth hanging open, “your personalized ring tone for - ”
Steve jammed the button and lifted the phone to his ear. “I keep my phone on silent at all times, you know.”
“And I’m the guy who made the phone,” Tony said. “Hi, by the way.”
“Hi,” Steve said. “That’s an invasion of privacy.”
“You’re welcome to go out and buy yourself an iPhone, but we both know you’ll never figure out how to move your contacts over,” Tony said. “Did Barnes have an aneurysm?”
Steve glanced at Bucky, who was eating cereal with an aggression he usually reserved for actual Nazis. “Something like that.”
“Then my work here is done,” Tony said. “I’m thinking ‘Let’s Get It On’ next time - oh, or maybe ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, what do you think?”
“Something happened to music in the last 70 years,” Steve said sadly.
“Sexuallll healing,” Tony sang, and the line went dead.
“You’re gross,” Bucky said around a mouthful of Rice Krispies. “He’s gross. You’re both gross. Gross.”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” Steve said, straight-faced. “Hey, do you know how to put this thing on silent?”
Setting phase 3 in motion. Meet me at Da Silvano at 8 pm.
Steve looked down at the text one last time and then stepped into the restaurant. Tony always had been dramatic. “I didn’t realize we were even in phase two,” he said dryly, sliding into the seat across from Tony.
“They’ve become acclimatized to even blatant flirting,” Tony said. “Barnes barely flinched when I called you sweet cheeks yesterday. We have to crank it up a notch if we want to keep torturing them, don’t you think?”
“I guess,” Steve said. “So what’s the plan?”
“Do you know how many people in this restaurant are trying to take pictures of us right now?” Tony said, leaning forward.
Steve glanced around. “I’m guessing it’s a lot.”
“So many,” Tony said. He put his hand over Steve’s. “This is one of the most romantic spots in the city. It’ll be on Twitter in five minutes.”
“You are really committed,” Steve said. “How many phases does your plan have?”
“As many as it takes for Barnes to crack,” Tony said. “I’ll propose marriage to you if I have to, Rogers. Don’t think I won’t.”
“I’ve never doubted you,” Steve said. “I think somebody behind you is taking a video of us.”
“Smile for the cameras, gorgeous,” Tony said.
“I spy with my little eye,” Sam said, “something… silver.”
Bucky narrowed his eyes. “Why are you like this.”
“Sorry, do you have a guess?” Sam said innocently.
“Is it my arm?” Bucky said.
“Amazing,” Sam said. “Got it in one.”
“One punch,” Bucky said. “That’s all it would take.”
“Guys, can we keep the threats of violence to a minimum?” Steve said, flexing his aching cheek muscles. “It’s a charity event.”
“And we’ve been posing for pictures for half an hour,” Sam said through his own clenched teeth. “Gotta keep it lively.”
“Hi, folks, sorry, official Avengers business, excuse me, oh, hello,” Tony said, appearing from behind the backdrop as if by magic. “Mind if I steal you for a sec, Cap?”
“It’s not stealing if I want to go with you,” Steve said.
“One punch,” Bucky hissed.
Steve ignored him and allowed Tony to slip a hand through his elbow and pull him away. The well-dressed guests parted in front of them, and Tony waved and smiled his way through the crowd, never taking his hand off Steve’s arm until he’d dragged him under the branches of a huge potted tree and into an alcove.
The noise of the gala attendees echoed through the marble columns. “What’s up?” Steve said.
“This,” Tony said, and reached up, threaded his hands into Steve’s hair, and -
- ruffled it.
Steve blinked. His lips, which had parted of their own accord, snapped shut. “Uh. What’s this, exactly?”
“You need to look debauched,” Tony said, as if it were obvious. “Okay, that should have destroyed your hair, how do you have perfect hair on top of all the rest of it? You’re obnoxious, seriously.”
“So we’re - ”
“Pretending to make out, yeah,” Tony said, fluffing up Steve’s bangs and then pulling back to sweep a critical eye over his work. “This alcove is perfect for it, we would see anyone coming before they saw us, clear line of sight from the photo area, you have no idea how long it took me to find a place with this setup - ”
“Hang on,” Steve said, “did you plan this entire event around this alcove?”
“In one sense, yes,” Tony said, “and in other senses, also yes. But it’s for a charity for sick kids! It’s charity, you love charity! There’s no way you can be mad at me about this. I thought it through exhaustively.”
“Oh my god,” Steve muttered. “This might be too far.”
“I’m making a matching donation, don’t get your panties in a twist,” Tony dismissed. “Can you bite your lips for me? You know, make them kind of red and plump. I’d do it myself under normal circumstances, but - ”
“What about you?” Steve said, gesturing from Tony’s perfectly-styled head to his shiny toes. “Don’t we have make you look, you know, ravished?”
“First of all, ravished, you are adorable, and second of all, do you really think I ever emerge from a clandestine hook up looking anything less than sublime? I have experience with this, Cap.”
“Are you implying I don’t?”
“No,” Tony said, “no, not at all, but I feel like your experience is probably a little less, I don’t know, public? You just seem like someone who prefers to keep their bedroom activities in the bedroom - ”
“So you think I’m a prude.”
“I didn’t say that, did I say that? I’m sure you’re wild, like foot of the bed wild even - ”
“Keep on digging, Tony,” Steve said.
“I’m sure your sex life is both varied and exciting,” Tony said. “Does that work? Not that I’ve spent any time considering it, at all, ever, ugh, gross - what are you doing?”
“I’m loosening your tie,” Steve said, pulling on Tony’s perfectly-executed half-Windsor.
“We just discussed that the ravishing would be limited to you.”
“Don’t you want this to be realistic?” Steve said.
“Well, let’s just say, if this were real, I’d be, you know. Pulling on your tie,” Steve said.
Tony opened his mouth, then closed it. “Well. If it’s about accuracy, then I guess I can’t argue.” He glanced down at his tie, and Steve released it quickly. “So, ready to go watch Barnes blow his top?”
“Never been more ready in my life,” Steve said.
Tony smirked, grabbed Steve by the hand, and pulled him out of the alcove.
Steve pretended to look around casually, but he was really watching out of his peripherals as, across the room, Bucky froze.
“He spotted us,” Steve reported under his breath. “Do you have a plan?”
“Do I have a plan, of course I have a plan,” Tony said. “I always have a plan, do you ever doubt my plans? Don’t answer that, actually - ”
“Steve,” Bucky said, descending on them with Sam in his wake. “Tony.”
“Hey, Buck,” Steve said. “What’s going on?”
“What were you two doing back there?” Bucky said, inclining his head toward the alcove.
“There?” Tony said. “Oh. We were talking.”
“What were you talking about?”
“It was private,” Steve contributed.
“So why’s your hair all messed up?”
“What?” Steve said, lifting a hand to his head. “Oh. Well - ”
“There was a fly,” Tony said. “I swatted it away. Collateral damage.”
“A fly,” Sam said flatly.
“That’s pretty much the whole story,” Tony said. “Sounds like we’re all caught up. So should we get back to the - ”
“All right,” Bucky burst out. “I’ve had enough of this. All the sneaking around, the little glances at each other, the goddamn flowers - admit it. You’re seeing each other behind our backs.”
Tony plastered on a look of shock that was, in Steve’s opinion, slightly excessive. “Excuse me?”
“We just caught you guys red handed,” Sam said. “It’s over, man, and for the record? You both woulda washed out of the stealth training program.”
“This is preposterous,” Tony said. “I have no idea what you’re - ”
“Yes, you do,” Bucky said. He turned to Steve. “Honestly, Steve? I’m kinda hurt. You really thought you had to hide whatever this is from me?”
“I - no,” Steve said, glancing at Tony. “We didn’t mean to - ”
“Because look, I’ve been giving you a hard time, but I’m not mad about it, even if it is Stark. What matters to me is that you’re happy,” Bucky said. “If you’re happy, then I’m happy. So let’s just drop the act and get it all out in the open, huh? Go on, pal. Give your fella a kiss.”
“What?” Steve said, his voice at a completely normal pitch.
“C’mon, nobody’s looking,” Bucky said. He elbowed Sam. “Right, Sam?”
“Right,” Sam said
“Right,” Bucky said, smiling serenely.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Tony said. “You caught us, congrats, now we don’t we all just - ”
“Nope,” Bucky said, popping the p. “No more secrets. Lay one on him, Tony.”
Tony cleared his throat. “Steve?”
“Yes,” Steve said, wondering what his life had become.
“You’re good to - ”
“Yup,” Steve choked.
“Great,” Tony said. “Glad to hear it.”
Steve turned toward him like a man going to the firing squad. “Shall we?”
“Definitely,” Tony said. He smiled up at Steve, and in his eyes Steve could clearly read: Don’t give in now, soldier. “Uh, Cap, you know I hate to admit it, but you’re gonna have to lean down to - ”
“Right,” Steve said. He glanced at Bucky, who was still smiling that placid little smile, and at Sam, who looked like he was watching a particularly gruesome trainwreck, and at Tony, who was as casual as if he was about to reach out and shake Steve’s hand, the bastard.
No use putting it off. Steve pursed his lips, squeezed his eyes shut, and pressed his lips to Tony’s.
The world around them faded away. Birds suddenly appeared. Fireworks went off. Every first kiss stereotype Steve had ever heard of, and several he had not, came to life.
When he opened his eyes again, Tony looked like he’d seen a ghost. “Um,” he said.
“We should,” Steve said, his voice strangled, “go.”
“Yes,” Tony said firmly.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Sam said, shaking his head as the elevator doors closed behind Steve and Tony.
“Like putty in our hands,” Bucky said, sticking out a fist.
Sam pounded it. “So, any other lives you wanna meddle in?”
“Not at the moment,” Bucky said.
“You know, I could use a girlfriend.”
“That’s a task too big even for me,” Bucky said wistfully.
“Asshole,” Sam said.