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Steve’s rearranging the ‘Dark and Lonely Nights’ display on the table by the door when the little bell chimes to let him know someone’s come in. Not that he wouldn’t know by the blast of cold air they bring with them from the outside world, or from their rather loud voice.

“Yes, Pep. I know. I know Happy was supposed to pick me up from… But I’m not in Manhattan.”

Steve turns around, smiling, to see a man with a hoodie pulled up over his head and big sunglasses behind it.

“I don’t… “ the man pulls the phone away from his ear, it’s shiny – one of the new Stark models Bucky’s been sighing over and bemoaning his contract for. “Where am I?” he asks.

“Page Turners,” Steve says.

“What?” The man’s face screws up, Steve can’t see his eyes, thanks to the sunglasses, but the twist of his mouth makes the affected van dyke the man has curl in a strange way. “What’s that?”

“A book shop,” Steve says, looking around. The guy turns as well, pivoting on one heel to take the place in. He’s not sure how the place could be taken for anything else, what with the floor to ceiling bookcases and tables full of books. The signs announcing “Hot Summer Reads” and “Whodunnits”.

“It’s a bookshop,” the man says, his voice sounding confused. “I’m in a bookshop, Pep. Do people still read books? Is that a thing? Are books still a thing?”

“Yes,” Steve says, even though responding to someone’s private phone conversation is probably rude, but the guy’s standing in Steve’s shop insulting it. Fuck him. “Yes, books are a thing. I’m guessing you don’t read much.”

The guy turns to look at him, and he’s smiling.

No. He’s smirking. That’s a smirk. Oh God. Steve should have just kept his mouth shut and let the illiterate jerk disappear. But no, he had to open his stupid mouth.

“Gotta go, Pep. The locals are gathering their pitchforks… Sure, sure. Board meeting. I know. Stay out of trouble. Yup. Gottit.”

He pulls the phone away from his ear, his smirk still in place.

“I read,” Sunglasses says, tilting his face down to look over the top of the frames. There’s something… familiar about him, Steve frowns, but dismisses it. “I just don’t waste space by filling it up with lots of paper. I have a Starkpad.”

“Of course you do,” Steve says.

“I guess you think those are the devil’s work,” the guy says. “Going to burn me as a heretic?”

“No,” Steve protests. “They’re good. I mean, for travel and stuff. I have one.” It’s Sunglasses’ turn to be surprised now. Steve doesn’t mention that it’s a third-hand, battered, no-name brand one with enough dodgy pixels to make reading an adventure, he’d pretty sure that the guy’s sunglasses cost more than Sam bought the thing for originally. “But they’re not the same.” He pauses. “Books are still relevant.”

“Ri-ight…” Sunglasses says. His hood falls back a bit as he turns to survey the shop again and his profile looks like…

Nope, that would be ridiculous.

“Come with me,” Steve says, before turning to move towards the back room. He doesn’t look back, but he can hear the sound of shuffling footsteps behind him.

“You’re not really going to kill me, are you? Because I don’t think Pepper would appreciate that,” Sunglasses says. “She’s definitely called shotgun.”

Steve takes him through to the backroom, where he keeps the more expensive second hand books. There’s an old glass cabinet there, and he opens it up. He doesn’t have any first editions. But he does have…

His fingers find the spine unerringly, and he gently pushes the books on either side back a bit, so he can pull it out without breaking the spine any more than it was already.

It’s a copy of Jane Eyre.

“If I want to read about people trying to marry their maids and keeping their wives locked up, I could buy a magazine,” Sunglasses says. Steve gives him a flat look in return.

“Look inside the cover,” he says. One unimpressed eyebrow peeks like a meerkat above the sunglasses, but the guy does as he’s told.

It’s a nice copy of Jane Eyre, leatherbound, but battered, well loved; it’s seen better days and there’s water damage to the pages, some of the pages are folded down.

Strangely, the man’s hands are gentle as he lifts the cover, almost like he actually cares. The fingers smooth over the leather, and then over the patterned end paper glued inside. He’s obviously a tactile person, and his fingers are…

Steve reminds himself that the man is rude, and it is definitely weird to get even a little bit turned on by how a man touches a book, even if he does think it’s a good indicator of how a person would touch other things.

He turns over the next page and Steve sees his lips soften a bit when he sees what Steve wants him to see.

‘Kathy, you will always be one of my gleams of sunshine. Yours, Alice.’ The man reads out.

“It’s a reference to a line from the book,” Steve says. The man looks up.

“You’re a romantic,” he says, but his smile isn’t mocking.

“I think it’s one of the job requirements,” Steve admits. “I know that maybe you don’t get it, but you can’t sign an e-book like that. If you get an e-book as a gift, it’s not the same. I’ve still got books my mother gave me when I was a child.”

“More nineteenth century romantic fiction? Wuthering Heights? Pride and Prejudice?”

“Douglass Adams,” Steve corrects. The guy grins at him then, broad and sincere. “Among others. I just don’t think the book is dead. No matter how much technology tries to murder it with Starkpads and Kindles and the rest of it.”

The guy chuckles, and reaches past Steve to push Jane Eyre back into place. It brings him close into Steve’s space, and Steve realises that he’s allowed himself to be blocked in.

“Also, have you tried reading a comic on one of those things?” Steve asks. “The zoom functions are terrible, and they haven’t worked out a panel by panel system that works yet. It’s awful.”

“You like comics,” the man says. “You like comics and Douglass Adams and…”

“I can appreciate classics of all types,” Steve says, crossing his arms over his chest. He’s not about to be told what he can and can’t like by…

The guy reaches up to pull his sunglasses off.

“I’ll be sure to take your comments into account in our new e-reader program,” Tony Stark says, smiling at him. “And please rest assured that I’m not actually trying to murder books.”

Steve gapes. He’d thought that the guy – Stark – looked familiar before, but he hadn’t thought, it hadn’t occurred to him that…

Tony Stark is standing in Steve’s bookshop and Steve just accused him of murdering the publishing industry.

Bucky’s not going to believe this one.

“You just didn’t know they were still a thing,” Steve says, deadpan, because he’s not going to back down even if this is Tony Fucking Stark, whose Sexiest Man of the Year photoshoot Steve may have, possibly, appreciated quite enthusiastically.

Steve hopes he isn’t blushing.

“Well, in my defence, I don’t see many of them around.”

“Then you’re looking in the wrong places,” Steve responds.

Steve likes Tony Stark. Not just his picture spreads. He actually likes the guy. Bucky teases him for his celebrity crush. But the guy’s… sure, his past was a bit of a mess. But he’s stood up and taken responsibility for it. He’s working to improve himself and the world. He’s pioneering clean energy, he’s stopped working on weapons and started working on actual defence, he has a whole system set up to provide tech to hospitals and schools in low income areas for free. He actually does something with his money. And he’s the guy behind Bucky’s prosthetic arm.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes.

Steve has, a couple of times, when he’s been a little drunk, given his friends very detailed descriptions of exactly how he’d like to show Tony Stark his appreciation if he ever met him.

And here he is, standing right in front of Steve. Still leaning in from where he pushed the book back into place. He’s real and Steve can see the laugh lines around his eyes, and the individual hairs of his beard. He can see the flecks in his eyes.

Oh god.

“Well, I’m glad I stumbled into the right place, today,” Tony Stark says. And how could Steve not have recognised his voice? He’s heard that voice on TV and on the radio and on the Internet, and even one noticeable time in person, though Steve had been right at the back of the auditorium, so Tony had been just a stick figure on a stage, and his voice had been more over the speakers than in real life.

And Tony Stark, at least as far as every trashy tabloid is concerned, is very straight.

So Steve needs to stop staring at his mouth and remember to talk.

“Why did you stumble in here, anyway?” he asks. Tony’s eyes slide away, a bit abashed.

“Needed a walk,” he says. There’s more to it than that. Steve can tell. “Sometimes you just need some air.”

“And you haven’t invented an app for that, yet?” Steve asks. Tony chuckles, but it doesn’t sound happy.

“Not yet.”

This is not going the way Steve would like. Tony Stark looks tired. He looks sad. He looks human.

“So did I manage to convince you to be a bit old fashioned?” Steve asks.

“You are very convincing,” Tony tells him. “And it would be rude of me to take up so much of your time without making a purchase.”

“Not at all,” Steve says. “Bookshops are for browsing as much as for buying.”

“That’s not exactly the attitude most shops go for.”

“We’re not most shops,” Steve tells him. “We try to be more than just a shop.”

“Really?”

“There’s a book club that meets up every Thursday. We have story time for kids on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. There’s even a knitting circle.”

“A knitting circle…” Tony says slowly.

“Well, mostly it’s just Natasha sitting in a corner glaring at people, but sometimes people join her.”

Sometimes she gets Sam or Bucky to have a go. The movements are good for helping Bucky work with his arm and Sam’s got some guys down at the VA who are using knitting as part of their therapy.

“Would you like to look around?” Steve asks, aware that he’s approaching the edge of awkward. “We’ve got nonfiction as well as fiction. If you can’t find something, you can always ask me.”

“Why not?” Tony Stark says, looking around. “I might find something else interesting.” He pulls away, letting his fingers trail over book spines, and Steve breathes a bit more easily. He doesn’t think he needs to use an inhaler, but his breath does seem a little short.

He blinks as he registers what Stark just said.

“Something else?” he says. Stark just smirks again and pushes his sunglasses on again.

“Right, I’ll… leave you to it,” Steve says. He tries not to crowd customers. Bookshops aren’t for the hard sell, after all. They’re for browsing and thinking.

He returns to the front desk. It’s not a busy time, so few people come in. He sells a new thriller to a girl with a backpack and that’s pretty much it until Clint comes in to start his shift.

“Hey bossman!” Clint calls. “I’m gonna dump my bow in the office. See you in a sec.”

Clint teaches archery part time as well, and he doesn’t bother going home in between, so he usually comes in with a bow and a quiver of arrows. He’s got half the kids at Story Time convinced he’s Robin Hood. They love it.

Steve doesn’t think to warn him about the celebrity browsing the back room until Clint comes back in, eyes wide, mouth agape, opening and shutting over and over again.

"Do you know who’s in the back" He asks in sign. He doesn’t wait for Steve to respond. "Tony Stark. Dude. Dude. TONY STARK is in your backroom. Fuck. You have to do something. That’s really Tony Stark."

"Calm down," Steve signs back, although his mind has been going through pretty much the same loop since he realised just who it was he was talking to earlier. "He’s just a customer"

"Did you get an autograph? A selfie? Get him to sign his book. Do we have his book? Has he written a book? He must have written a book. Get him to sign that picture of him you like."

"Clint!" Steve signs as broadly as he can. "He’s a customer. He wants to be left alone. I’m not going to bother him." Clint makes an exaggerated face of disbelief.

"Bother him. No one’s going to believe this. I’m gonna take a picture and send it to Bucky."

"Clint. No!" Steve signs, but Clint’s already turned his back on him and started pulling his phone from his back pocket. Steve hurries off his stool in pursuit.

Tony’s in the back corner of the room, visible between the book stacks, and Clint’s lining his phone up for a picture.

Steve can’t exactly shout at Clint to stop, so he ends up throwing himself at the guy’s arm, which is pretty much useless because Clint’s got more than eight inches on Steve and a life time of archery has left his arms pretty much immovable when he wants them to be. But it does cause a scuffle.

Clint still manages to get his photo, though.

It is probably one of the most humiliating moments of Steve’s life when he looks up from the pile of limbs that he and Clint have created to see Tony Stark peering down at them from above.

“Shoplifter?” Tony asks. “Should I call the police?”

“No,” Steve says, trying to extract himself from Clint and pull himself upright. Tony offers him a hand and Steve blinks for a second before taking it. Tony’s hands are warm and rough in places. Callouses. The man works with his hands. Steve finds himself memorising the sensation for later review and blushes when he realises what he’s doing. “This is Clint, he works here.”

“As a part-time book wrestler?” Tony asks.

“Uh, no… I was just.”

“Steve has difficulty reaching the high shelves,” Clint says, standing up. His t-shirt is looking even more bedraggled than usual, and his beanie’s wonky. “I was giving him a boost. We… overbalanced.”

Tony turns to look at the foldaway steps in the corner of the room and then back at them. He smiles as though he knows exactly what’s going on. Steve blushes even more. Fucking Clint.

“If you wanted a picture, you just had to ask,” Tony says. He takes Clint’s phone out of his hand and goes to stand next to the two of them. Steve’s brilliant red with embarrassment. Now he’s just coming off as a pathetic fanboy and even if he is… which, let’s face it, is true… he was hoping that he’d make at least a bit of a good impression.

“That’s really not necessary,” Steve says.

“Nonsense,” Tony says, “now smile, boys.”

Worst. Day. Ever.

Clint reclaims his phone with glee.

“Just don’t post it anywhere public until I’m gone, okay?” Tony says. He looks tired again, though he’s smiling through it.

“Sure!” Clint says. “I just wanted it to show my boyfriend anyway,” he shrugs. “Buck’s never gonna believe this.”

“Your boyfriend is called Buck?” Tony asks with disbelief. Steve takes advantage of the distraction to sneak away and lick his wounds. Clint can talk about Bucky forever. The two take great pleasure in being horribly sappy about each other.

Steve installs himself behind the fortifications of the front desk and the book he’s currently reading. He’d, maybe, amused himself before by thinking of slipping his phone number into any book that Tony bought. A silly daydream, because, as mentioned, Tony Stark is very much into women and has never given any indication – At all. Ever. – of liking men, particularly not skinny argumentative bookshop owners who have crazy fanboy crushes on him.

His phone buzzes at him in his pocket.

Bucky: Holy fuck. Tony Stark’s in your shop.

Bucky: Tell me you’re getting up close and personal against the shelves.

Bucky: Is he a good kisser?


Steve sighs and shoots a quick look towards the backroom, just to make sure that Tony isn’t looking over his shoulder.

Steve: I’m working.

Steve: The no making out in the shop rule applies to me just as much as it does to you and Clint.

Steve: Also, he’s straight.


He thrusts the phone back into his pocket, determined to return to the pages of his book, but he’s barely read another sentence before his phone is buzzing again.

Bucky: Holy shit. You don’t know.

Steve looks at the text and frowns. If Bucky and Clint have been having sex in the shop again he is actually going to fire Clint this time. He sends a reply back saying as much.

Bucky: Well yes. But that wasn’t what I meant. Here. I’ll find a link.

Steve groans. He is going to have to sanitise the entire place again.

His phone buzzes as Bucky sends him a link. He hits it without really thinking, his mind filling up with how exactly he is going to get Clint to clean up everything. He really does not need to think about-

Holy shit.

Steve stares at the screen of his phone. His eyes going wide and round.

That is… that is… not what he was expecting.

Bucky has linked him to a news site, and gracing the home page of their ‘celebrity’ section is a picture of Tony Stark with his hands down another guy’s pants, his tongue firmly in another guy’s mouth.

Fuck.

Steve: Is this real?

Bucky: Far as I can tell. Go get him!


Steve can’t think. That is… and Tony is…

He looks up just at the moment when Tony and Clint emerge from the back room, Tony’s arm is slung over Clint’s shoulders like they are old friends. Tony Stark who likes guys.

Tony Stark who has been photographed in a very compromising picture showing just that.

Tony Stark who Steve has a massive crush on.

Tony Stark who is in his shop.

“You okay, Steve? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Clint asks. Steve swallows past the dryness in his mouth.

“I’m fine. Did you… Did you find anything you wanted, Mr Stark?” he asks. Shit, did that sound like a come on? Did Steve want it to sound like a come on?

The patented Stark grin comes back on like a lightbulb, bright and shiny, with a hint of something dirty that Steve might be imagining. Is he imagining it?

“I might just…” Tony and Steve’s phones buzz at the same time, and they both turn to look at them.

Bucky: Seriously. If you don’t do Stark, I am not letting you back into the apartment.

Tony is frowning.

“Hold that thought, Benjamin Franklin. I’m afraid my ride’s here, and as much as I’d love to miss my afternoon meeting, Pepper will actually burn me alive if I don’t show up.” He pauses, looking at Steve and stepping towards the counter, leaving Clint behind in the doorway. “But I might have seen something I was interested in.”

Over Tony’s shoulder Clint is signing "give him your fucking number," every sign exaggerated for emphasis.

“So you’re willing to give the old fashioned way a chance?” Steve asks. Are they talking about books? Just because Tony likes guys doesn’t means he likes Steve. It’s just books, they’re just talking about books.

“You’re very persuasive, Steve-o,” he says, looking over the tops of his sunglasses again, his lips curling slowly, upwards. Steve should not be looking at his mouth.

Clint’s given up on numbers and now he’s just signing ‘kiss him’ over and over again. Steve ignores him with determination borne of years of practice.

“Well, feel free to come back anytime.”

Tony pauses, like he wasn’t expecting that. Steve pauses, staring at him. He feels guilty and worried, like he’s done something wrong or been caught doing something he shouldn’t have.

Fuck fuck fuck.

“I sure will,” Tony says, leaning back again and pushing his glasses up his nose. “See you around, handsome.”

And then Tony Stark, Sexiest man of the year, strolls out of Steve’s life.

Fuck.

The door’s barely shut when Clint flat out howls.

“What the fuck, Steve?!”

“What?” Steve asks.

“What? WHAT? You could have just got a blow job from Tony fucking Stark and you just… you just threw him out of your shop.” Clint’s not good with volumes when he gets agitated, and Steve looks out at the street, but Tony’s already climbing into the back of a very expensive looking car on the street, not looking back. His ass looks great.

“I was not going to get a blow job from Tony Stark,” Steve says. “We live in New York. This is just one of those things that happens. Sometimes you meet celebrities.”

“NO!” Clint says. “Sometimes you go to a nice restaurant and you wonder if that guy four tables over with his back to you is the same guy you saw on the news last night. The guy you’ve been jerking off to for the last decade doesn’t decide to walk into your shop and practically throw himself at you.”

“He didn’t…”

“Yes. He did.”

“Clint,” Steve says, taking his most matter of fact tone. “He wandered in here by accident, he was probably trying to hide from someone after those pictures showed up in the news. He was not-“

“He called you handsome,” Clint says. “The guy has literally just been outed by the media. He leaned towards you, gave you fuck me eyes and called you handsome. I haven’t seen flirting that obvious since Bucky and Sam got in that competition to see who could get the most phone numbers.”

“He called me handsome,” Steve echoed. He’d barely noticed, so caught up in wondering what the hell his life had become.

“Yeah he did.”

“You think he…”

“Wanted to bend you over that counter and get to know you biblically?” Clint asks. “Yes.”

Steve sits down on his stool again.

“I could have made out with Tony Stark,” he says, his voice sounding faint and far away.

Outside the pavement is clear of cars: Tony has gone, as abruptly as he appeared.

“I could have made out with Tony Stark,” Steve repeats.

“More like you could have nailed Tony Stark into next week,” Clint says with a sigh. “Seriously, Steve. I was counting on you. I’m a happily relationshipped guy. I have to live vicariously through you.” Steve gives him the stink eye.

“Don’t look at me like that, you know Buck would be saying the same thing,” Clint says. “I would have invited the guy for a threesome, but he was way too into you.”

Tony Stark. Was into him.

Well, Steve might not have got the guy, but he’s going to have enough fantasy fuel for weeks.

*

“No,” Bucky calls through the door. “I told you. I’m not letting you back in. I can’t believe you screwed this up.”

“Buck!” Steve says back, trying to keep his voice down so Mrs Ferrera next door won’t overhear. The only thing she likes more than complaining about them is gossiping about them.

“NO! I have listened to your plans for that man for ten years, Stevie. I have dragged your drunk ass home as you have told me how much you wanted to stick your tongue up his ass.”

“Buck,” Steve hissed, blushing again.

“And you had him right there in front of you and you did nothing.”

“Just let me in so we can maybe talk about this normally,” Steve says.

“No… You’re not coming in.”

“How about if I go and get Chinese? Will you let me in if I bring food?”

Bucky considers this for a second.

“Fine. Bring food and we can negotiate.”

*

The Day Steve Could Have Fucked Tony Stark goes down in history. It’s officially the day Steve is never living down. Bucky and Clint tell anyone who will listen, and whenever Tony appears on TV (which in the aftermath of those pictures, he does quite a bit) they turn the volume up and look pointedly at Steve. Steve is not allowed to talk about Tony Stark anymore. It’s official. The next time he gets drunk, later that night, everyone groans and throws fortune cookies at him.

“If you’re not going to tell Tony Stark how hot you think he is, then we sure don’t have to listen to it,” Bucky announces and everyone agrees, raising their drinks. So Steve stews quietly, if not silently. His head ends up buried in a cushion as he bemoans his stupidity.

Sam and Natasha end up patting his back in a vaguely reassuring way.

“At least you met the guy,” Sam reasons.

“Next time you’ll know what to do,” Natasha says.

“There won’t be a next time,” Steve tells them.

“True,” Natasha agrees, which isn’t helpful at all.

*

Three weeks later, and Steve is mostly over it. He’s fine. Really.

It’s Story Time day, so Natasha and Clint are both in the shop. He goes to get himself a coffee, making the most of the sunshine before the city becomes too hot. He’s almost back at the shop when he runs straight into someone, his coffee going all over their shirt.

Steve braces himself for a fight. It was as much their fault as it was his, so if they think they can blame him then they’ve got another thing coming.

“Well that’s going to stain,” a familiar voice says, making him freeze. Steve’s head jerks up, as though pulled by a string.

“Tony – Mr Stark,” he says. “I’m sorry. Really, I am. Shit.”

Tony looks at him bemused for a moment, before he smiles. He’s wearing a different pair of sunglasses this time, but another hoodie.

“Steve,” he says. “Fancy running into you.”

“Uh… yeah,” Steve says. He can feel the tips of his ears beginning to burn. “Are you okay? Was it too hot?” He thought it had cooled down a bit, but if he’s burnt Tony Stark then… shit. The guy will probably sue him.

“I’m fine,” Tony says, looking down at the dark wet patch over his chest. “Just a little…”

“I can wash it,” Steve says. “I mean. I’m sure you’ve got a… it’s probably dry clean only. I can pay for that. Or I have shirts you can borrow.” He considers Tony’s frame. He’s got some muscle, visible even under the fabric – Steve’s mouth goes a bit dry as he realises he’s staring – but one of Steve’s shirts will probably fit him. “I mean, if you’d like.”

“That’s not…”

“Please,” Steve says. “You can’t go around like that, and I only live across the street.”

“Steve, it’s fine. I can…” Tony looks around.

“Really, it’s just over there. You can see it from here,” Steve points. Tony follows his finger.

“Just over there?” Tony asks, cautiously, like he’s not sure.

“Right there,” Steve agrees.

“Okay then,” Tony says.

*

Tony Stark is in his apartment.

Steve looks at his reflection in the back window and tries to come to terms with it.

Tony Stark is standing in his living room/dining room/kitchen looking around at the piles of dirty dishes, and Clint’s laundry lying on the floor, and Lucky’s chew toys.

Steve wonders when the last time they hoovered was. Probably not recently.

He notices a dorito half crumbled into the carpet and winces. Should he mention the mess. Tony Stark probably has cleaners. There was that photoshoot once of his place in Malibu, and Steve remembers clean, minimalistic design and gorgeous lines. He looks around the tiny apartment he shares with one and a half other people, and half a dog, and feels his stubbornness digging in again.

If Tony doesn’t like it, then that’s his problem. This is Steve’s home and fuck anyone who thinks they’re too good for it.

But another glance at Tony makes Steve pause. He doesn’t look disgusted, even though Steve’s pretty sure Clint’s left his underwear on display, he looks bemused, like he can’t quite understand where he’s standing.

“It’s home,” Steve says.

“It’s…” Tony pauses. “It looks lived in.”

“I know it’s a mess,” Steve says. “But it’s not like we have much time to tidy, and I didn’t know we’d have guests today, so-“

“I didn’t mean that.” Tony sighs and takes off his sunglasses, slipping his hood off his head. His shoulders fall and he looks smaller than Steve thought. “I just. It must be nice, having people around all the time.”

Steve simultaneously realises two things. One, Tony Stark is lonely. Two, Steve wants to kiss him until he never makes that facial expression again.

“I’ll… go and get a shirt for you,” he says instead, retreating to his room.

He finds a clean shirt in a drawer and pulls it out, taking a moment to breathe deeply and centre himself.

Tony Stark has only ever been a photoshoot before. He’s been a fantasy man: good, handsome, rich. The kind of person who exists in fairytales and movies. Now he’s standing in Steve’s living room looking lonely. He’s not a fantasy right now. He’s a human being. He’s Tony, and he’s standing there and Steve wants to make him smile.

They say you should never meet your heroes. No one can possibly be as good in real life as you make them in your head, but Steve’s already been half way in love with this man, and now.

Screw your courage to the sticking place, he tells himself, taking a second to smooth his hair down before he ventures out again.

What he sees in his living room makes his breath catch. Tony’s sitting, stained shirt hanging open, tapping away at Steve and Bucky’s laptop.

“How old is this?” Tony asks. “How does it even work? Is this Windows Vista? You still have Vista. Did Pepper put you up to this?”

“It works,” Steve protests. “It does what we need it to do.”

“But it doesn’t do it well,” Tony says. “I can’t let you keep this.”

He looks different. The lost look from before is gone, replaced with sparks. “Seriously. I’m upgrading you…”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Yes. It is. And I’ll get you some decent software too. And a Stark operating system. We’re hardware independent, you don’t need to worry about it working with your… Oh, how much RAM do you even get on this thing?”

“Tony!” Steve says. “Thank you for the offer, but we’re fine,” he says. He holds out the t-shirt, like a shield, valiantly keeping his eyes on Tony’s face, and not letting them drag down to his abs, or the car tissue on his chest.

His fingers twitch a bit, wanting to touch. But Steve is not about to force himself on someone. He brought the man here to lend him a shirt.

Tony looks at the shirt without comprehension before his brain seems to click back to the reason he was here in the first place.

“Right,” he says, standing up. “But that thing’s a menace. Just so you know.”

“We get by,” Steve says firmly.

Tony slides the shirt off his shoulders. Steve tells himself that he’s not doing it any more slowly than anyone else would. For all Clint’s been telling him that Tony was coming onto him before, faced with the man himself, Steve doesn’t really believe it. Tony could have anyone, he’d never be interested in Steve. And even if he was, even if Tony did think Steve was worth a one night stand, did Steve even want that?

His body was rather adamant that it did, unable as he was to stop his eyes from tracking the skin of Tony’s arms as it was revealed. But his mind was more circumspect. You didn’t get to sleep with random celebrities. And even if you did, did he really want to be some guy Tony Stark had sex with.

Tony’s shirt fell to the floor, and he reached out to take the shirt. Steve stepped a bit closer, but maybe the distance had been smaller than he thought, or maybe he had just stepped too far, because they were suddenly in each other’s space, both holding the shirt.

Steve wasn’t imagining this. He could hear Tony’s breath, practically feel it against his face. It was coming a bit more quickly. His own heart rate was picking up. Tony’s eyes were darting down to Steve’s lips. He was leaning down, Steve was swaying in. They were going to kiss. It felt a little inevitable and a little bit like a dream.

Their lips met, and it was like an electric current jolted through Steve. He heard himself moan, felt Tony’s mouth smile against him and then open up. Steve began to surge forwards -

Then the door slammed open and Bucky stalked into the room, looking furious at the world.

They froze, shirt still caught between them, eyes wide, Steve pulled back, Tony looked round, and the moment was broken.

Bucky took a second longer, his PT bag hitting the ground as he ground to a halt.

He gaped at them. At Tony, shirtless and very much real, Steve, blushing furiously and shifting uncomfortably as the arousal was sent crashing back down.

“You must be Bucky,” Tony says smoothly, like he’s not half naked in a stranger’s living room. “Clint’s boyfriend, right?”

“That’s me,” Bucky says, his eyes sliding to Steve to ask ‘what the fuck, punk?’ even as his hand’s reaching out for Tony’s.

“Is that the mark 2?” Tony asks, gesturing at his prosthetic. As he shakes Bucky’s other hand.

“Uh, yeah…”

“Good model, we managed to get more articulation than in the mark 1. But it still had some lagging problems with sensation,” Tony says. It’s as though the kiss never happened. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe Steve is having a really strange hallucination. “I’ve been working on it, though. Still a way to go. Got a few feedback issues.”

“Right,” Bucky says. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr Stark.”

“Tony,” Tony says, grinning. “Nice to meet you too. Clint sang your praises.”

“Clint’s an idiot,” Bucky says, a bit gruffly, but there’s affection underneath it, which Tony clearly picks up on, because his smile grows.

“He says the same about you.”

“And what exactly are you doing here?” Bucky asks after a moment. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

Tony’s eyes slide over to Steve, his expression a bit mischievous, before flicking back to Bucky.

“Borrowing a shirt,” Steve says, before Tony can mention anything.

“Is that right?” Bucky asks.

“I bumped into him, spilled coffee all down him,” Steve gestures to the stained shirt on the floor.

“And he was kind enough to offer me a replacement,” Tony says. He holds up the shirt Steve brought him and then pulls it on. Steve tries not to be disappointed by the sudden concealment of the skin.

The t-shirt reads ‘A good bookshop is just a genteel black hole that knows how to read’ and Tony looks down at it in bemusement for a second.

“It’s a Pratchett quotation,” Steve provides, and Tony grins at him.

“Right,” he says again. “I’d better be off, then,” he says.

“Are you sure?” Bucky asks. “You can stay. I mean. I can go.” He jerks a thumb behind him at the door. “I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“No, I’ve got places to see, people to be,” Tony says. “Idiots to educate.” He scoops up his hoodie and his sunglasses from the sofa and turns to Steve. “Thanks for the shirt. I’ll make sure you get it back. It was good to… see you again, Steve.”

“Likewise,” Steve manages to say.

And Tony leaves again.

Steve falls back to sit on the sofa, staring at the door, his fingers going to his lips.

“Did I?” Bucky says.

“What?” Steve asks blankly.

“Interrupt something.” Bucky adds. “Cause it seems like I interrupted something.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, remembering the kiss. How soft Tony’s lips had been, the jerking uneven feeling in his stomach. It’s been a while since he’s kissed anyone.

“Tell me you at least got his number this time.”

Steve stares at Bucky for a long, long second. Before groaning and dropping his head back against the sofa.

“Fuck, Stevie. You are terrible at this.”

“Fuck you. I’m the one who kissed Tony Stark.”

*

Two days later and there’s a knock at the door, a man has Steve sign for a package.

“Whassat?” Bucky asks, sticking his head out of his door.

What it is, it turns out, is two state-of-the-art Stark Industries laptops. Steve gapes at them, as Bucky and Clint come to stare.

It’s Clint who finds the note.

’So you won’t have to use Vista anymore. That thing was a travesty. Thanks for the assistance. –Tony.’

“That must have been , one hell of a kiss,” Bucky says. “You sure you didn’t suck him off?”

“We can’t keep them,” Steve says.

“If you don’t want yours, can I have it?” Clint asks, picking one of the laptops up and turning it over in his hands. “Seriously Steve, these are brand new. Do you know how much these cost? We should have started pimping you out to billionaires years ago.”

“That’s why we can’t keep them.”

“Stark’s a billionaire,” Bucky says. “If he wants to shower you with gifts then you say ‘thank you very much’ and let the gifts rain down.”

“Bucky!”

“Steve!” Bucky responds with the exact same tone. “We both know that thing’s on its last legs. The shop makes enough to cover our rent, but we’d have to save for months to get something a fraction as good as this. Don’t let your pride get in the way of a good thing, okay?”

“But I don’t even know how to say thank you,” Steve says. “I can’t just phone up Stark Industries and ask to speak to Tony Stark.”

“Well… you could…” Bucky says.

“And I’d be put on some kind of watch list.” Steve looks at the brand new laptop. It’s beautiful, and it works and it won’t take fifteen minutes to boot up and keep disconnecting from the internet because the Wi-Fi’s half broken. It’ll make accounts easier. It’ll make everything easier.

“Fine,” he says. “We’re keeping them.”

Clint cheers.

*

It goes against the grain for Steve to receive any sort of gift without saying thank you. So he’s been thinking about it, trying to work out how. Tony Stark’s email address isn’t available online, obviously. His social media accounts are guarded by so many layers of protection and Steve doesn’t want to just Tweet a thank you at him, that feels wrong.

He kissed the man, for crying out loud, he wants to say thank you face to face.

And Steve Rogers is nothing if not determined. His mother used to say that if he put his mind to it, he’d find a way to make the earth stop spinning. So he’s going to say thank you to Tony Stark, and maybe this time he’s going to get his number, and he’s not going to take no for an answer.

Or rather, he will take no for an answer if it’s Tony’s answer, but he’s not going to let anything stop him from actually seeing Tony himself.

Tony isn’t actually that difficult to find, not really. The internet always knows where he is, whether it’s in Korea or France, or, more usually, in one of the Stark Industries buildings in the US. And he’s currently working at Stark Tower, New York, or so his fanpages say.

Steve’s not proud of getting information from the fanpages, but needs must.

Stark Tower isn’t hard to find either. It’s right in the centre of Manhattan, sticking up like a middle finger to the world, emblazoned with Stark’s name. It’s the first building in the world powered by Tony’s arc reactor technology. Steve’s drawn it a few times, although it’s not really his favourite sort of architecture.

He’s never been this close to it, though.

Standing at the bottom and looking up and up and up, it seems a lot bigger than it does in those stock video panoramas over New York City. He feels dizzy just looking at it.

And somewhere in here, is Tony Stark.

Steve can’t quite believe he’s doing this.

He’s got his best clothes on. Natasha’s very clear on how to walk into a place like you own it, and one of her number one tips for not getting thrown out of places you shouldn’t be, is to dress like everyone else. So Steve is wearing his best suit, the one he wears to ask the bank for loans, and he’s walking with purpose. He tries not to think about how he must look like a little kid playing dress up, because every other man in this place is almost a foot taller than him at least. He strides up to the desk and tries to look polite, but important.

Don’t look nervous. Receptionists can smell fear, Natasha had said.

“Can I help you?” the receptionist asks. She looks at him kindly, and Steve stares back at her with his best in command look, she blinks and her expression changes to one of respect.

“I’m here to see Mr Stark,” he says.

“Your name?” she asks.

“Steve Rogers,” Steve tells her, fully prepared to say anything to get past the security scan and double doors behind her.

To his surprise she smiles.

“Of course, Mr Rogers. Go right through. Floor fourteen, room D.”

He doesn’t show his surprise, just nods, keeping his head held high and walks on to the security gate, which he makes it through without issue.

The elevator bank is round the corner and he takes a moment to breathe and adjust his tie before hitting the call button on the nearest one.

A woman gets in with him, wearing a white lab coat and tapping away at a tablet computer.

“Which floor?” he asks.

“Nine,” she says, so hits that button as well as fourteen, and the lift doors close.

Was Tony expecting him? He wonders. But why would he expect him to show up? Just on the off chance? But the receptionist had known his name, hadn’t even batted an eyelid at him. So he guesses that Tony must have…

The lift stops at floor nine for the woman to get off. She smiles and he returns it, a little tight. The tie feels too tight around his neck. Did he remember to tie it properly?

If Tony’s expecting him, then what is he expecting? Steve’s got his shirt, dry cleaned in the briefcase he’s carrying, but is that all?

His mind contemplates the other things that Tony might be expecting and he swallows a bit. His brain’s been getting far too good at running away with itself recently, especially when it comes to Tony.

Floor fourteen comes too soon and he’s greeted at the door by a red-haired woman wearing an impeccable suit and an air of efficiency like a cloak.

“Mr Rogers?” she asks. Steve nods and shakes her hand automatically when she offers it to him. “Miss Potts, Mr Stark’s PA. Thank you for coming.”

“No problem,” Steve says automatically, though he’s a bit confused as to why Tony’s PA would be thanking him. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Of course not,” she says. “Of course, it’s a disruption to everyone to have this meeting so last minute, but that’s how our lives work. It’s no worse for us than it is for you.”

Steve frowns. He’s definitely getting the impression that there is something off here.

“I’m not sure.”

“I know,” Miss Potts says, smiling reassuringly. “I get that this is a big thing for you. But Mr Stark supports what you’re doing entirely and Stark Industries is really impressed by your work.”

“By my…?” There’s a door in front of him. It says ‘Conference Room D’.

“I think there’s been a mix-up” he says, but Miss Potts is already opening the door and ushering him in.

Oh… this is not good.

The room is laid out like Steve imagines most conference rooms are, at least most of the ones he sees in movies. A long, oval table, people seated on either side, all looking at him, and at the other end, eyes wide, Tony Stark.

“This is Mr Rogers, he’s here to talk about the Initiative,” Miss Potts says. Steve blinks. The men stare. Tony’s mouth falls open.

“Uh, actually Miss Potts…” Steve says. But she’s already looking at her phone and frowning. “I think there might have been a misunderstanding.” He tries his hardest not to look like he wants the ground to swallow him whole, but he’s not sure it works.

She looks at him and then down at her phone and then says “Excuse me gentlemen,” and takes Steve’s arm in hers, her grip firmer than should really be possible with that hold, and escorts him gently, but firmly, from the room.

“Who are you?” she demands as soon as the door shuts behind them.

“Steve Rogers, Ma’am.”

“Steve…” she says.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replies, looking back at the conference room door, wondering what Tony must think of him. “I did say at the desk.”

“Not Frederick,” she says.

“No ma’am,” he replies. And everything makes a bit more sense. She taps at her phone and sighs.

“I see the problem. No one put a first name in the calendar,” she sighs and looks at him, her nose wrinkling slightly. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t know you thought I was someone else,” Steve says. “I asked at the desk to speak to Mr Stark, they asked my name, and sent me up here.”

“What do you want with Tony?” she asks, her eyes narrowing. “I will call security.”

“Nothing. Nothing!” Steve says, hurriedly. “I just… I needed to return his shirt.”

“His… shirt…” Miss Potts says.

The door opens again and Tony strides out, shutting it behind him. Miss Potts turns to him.

“Tony,” she says, her voice low and acidic. “Why does this man have your shirt?”

Tony looks at Steve and then at Miss Potts.

“Pepper, it’s fine.”

“No, it’s not fine. I just introduced the wrong man to some of our biggest investors and it turns out that he just happens to have your shirt with him.”

“Pepper, it’s not…” Tony sighs, “this is Steve. I told you about Steve. The coffee… on my shirt. He leant me one of his.”

Miss Potts blinks and then looks at Steve more carefully. He feels his spine straighten up as much as it can.

“Look, Steve and I are going to have a little chat, you’ll hunt down the errant Mr Rogers and everything will be right as rain,” Tony says, slipping a hand into the small of Steve’s back to move him further down the corridor.

“Tony, I don’t think…”

“We’re missing a Mr Rogers, Pep,” Tony says. “The investors are waiting. I swear I’ll be back, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to listen very carefully and dazzle our investors with my brilliance by the time you get back.”

“No sex on the conference tables,” she says, her lips thinning to a tight line.

“Cross my heart,” Tony tells her, even as Steve’s heart is doing a rapid thudump thudump against his rib cage. Is sex on a conference table something that’s likely to happen?

“We don’t need any more scandals.”

“Pepper, I’ll be good. I swear,” Tony tells her. She finally sighs and turns on her heel to walk back to the elevator.

“I didn’t meant to interrupt,” Steve says. “I gave my name at the desk.”

“It’s fine,” Tony says, smiling as he pulls him into a side room. It’s another conference room, smaller than the previous one and, thankfully, empty of any other people. “So you came to return my shirt?” he asks, his smile wicked.

“Yes,” Steve says, reaching to open his briefcase. “And say thank you. For the computers. They were… they’ll be very useful. I just wanted to say that if there was any way I could repay.”

“They were a gift,” Tony says. “You needed a new laptop.”

“But-“

“I give out grants to small businesses,” Tony says. “If it makes you feel any better, think of it like that. I like your bookshop. The laptops will help with the bookshop. It’s just the same.”

“And Bucky’s…”

“Well, I didn’t want him to steal yours,” Tony says with a shrug. He looks down at Steve’s briefcase, now open on the table. “You didn’t have to return it, you know. I have others.”

“It’s yours,” Steve says.

“So is that really all you came for?” Tony asks, leaning one hip against the desk and reaching out to trace his arms down Steve’s sleeve. “All dressed up…”

“I thought it would be easier to get to you dressed like this.” Steve shifts uncomfortably. Tony chuckles.

“Well I appreciate the effort.” His eyes look Steve up and down and suddenly Steve feels a bit like his skin’s on fire. He wishes Miss Potts hadn’t said that thing about sex on the conference table, because he’s imagining how it would work, he’s imagining pushing Tony back onto the glass table top, unbuttoning his vest and shirt and burying his face in the curve of Tony’s neck to kiss at the pulse point he can see dancing there.

Tony looks amazing in a three piece suit. It’s tailored to his body perfectly, drawing out the lines of him and… Steve can smell a hint of cologne.

His mouth’s dry as a desert.

“You…” Steve says. He wants to compliment Tony’s appearance, but he knows that everyone must do that. Tony must hear people tell him he looks good constantly. And the words sound so pointless in his head, so trite and cliché. “You have a meeting to get back to.”

“I could postpone,” Tony suggests.

“Miss Potts,” Steve tells him, struggling to pull his eyes back up to Tony’s face, much to Tony’s amusement, it seems, because his eyes are sparkling with laughter.

“Will get over it. She’s used to me,” Tony says, reaching out one finger to hook under Steve’s tie.

“I’m not sure.”

Tony uses his tie to pull him inexorably forwards, until Steve’s almost falling towards him and Tony swoops down to pull them together.

It’s better than Steve remembers, hotter, sharper, more. Tony’s mouth opens under his and Steve reaches up to grab at Tony’s shoulders, pulling him down harder. He feels like he’s in a porno. Oh god.

He pulls back and looks up to see a few fish eye cameras in the ceiling. He flushes again, imagining some security guard seeing this. Steve steps back.

Tony chases his mouth for a moment then looks, to follow his eyes to the cameras.

“Right,” he says. “It’s okay. Sorry, I should have.” Tony pauses and takes a deep breath. “You’re just very hard to resist, Steve Rogers.”

“I’m really not,” Steve says. “But thanks for saying it.” Tony makes a face like he wants to add more, but he shakes his head.

“We seem plagued by bad timing,” Tony says instead of whatever he was going to say. “I’d need a long time to do you justice.” He reaches up to trace his thumb over Steve’s lips, and Steve can’t quite stop himself from biting at it softly. It draws the edge of a groan from Tony’s mouth and he pulls his hand back.

They’ve messed up the front of Tony’s suit. His ties askew, his vest and shirt rucked up, so Steve reaches out to adjust them, noting the strange look on Tony’s face as he does so. He knows he blushes a bit under the scrutiny.

“You were… I messed you up a bit,” he mumbles.

“I’d like it if you messed me up a bit more,” Tony says and Steve clears his throat, pulling back again so there’s a good foot between them. It’s hard to think when they’re standing too close. Tony takes the hint, his stance and his voice returning to more business-like levels.

“I haven’t got your shirt with me. It’s at my house. I could have it sent round.”

“Or you could bring it by yourself,” Steve suggests before he has time to censor the sentence. “I mean. If you’re not… you’re probably busy.”

“Or I could bring it by myself,” Tony says, smiling. “I know where you live.”

“I don’t have your number,” Steve blurts out and Tony blinks. “Could I have your number… please?” he asks. “So we can arrange when you bring the shirt round.”

“Of course,” Tony says with a smile. “Give me your phone.”

Steve hands over his phone, wincing a bit as he does so.

“You know I could-“

“I don’t need a new phone,” Steve says as firmly as he could. “Just your number, please.”

“Fine.” Tony pouts a bit, but he puts his number in and hands the phone back, just as Miss Potts knocks on the door.

“I’m coming in and you’d better both be dressed,” she says, before opening the door. She takes in the two of them, fully dressed, a respectful distance apart and nods. “Oh. Tony, I’ve found the other Mr Rogers, we’re ready for you now.”

“Thanks Pep,” Tony says. “Could you show Steve round.”

“That’s not necessary,” Steve says. “I can find my own way out.”

“I’m afraid for security reasons that won’t be possible,” Miss Potts says. Tony shrugs.

“No, give him the tour,” Tony says. “You like Adams, right. You’re a sci-fi fan?” Steve nods a bit. He reads sci-fi, likes keeping up with the latest technology breakthroughs for more than just a chance to see a picture of Tony. “You’ll love the tour. Go on Pep, blow his mind.”

“Of course, Mr Stark.”

“I have to be back by 5,” Steve says. He promised Sam he’d help with setting up.

“We’ll make sure you’re home before midnight, Cinderella,” Tony says, winking at him. “Go on, take a look.” He turns back to Miss Potts again. “Make sure to show him the prosthetics labs.” He turns away. “I’ll join you when I’m finished up in here.”

“Certainly, Mr Stark,” Miss Potts says. “If you’ll follow me, Mr Rogers.”

“Steve,” Steve corrects. She smiles at him, warmer than she was before.

*

The tour of Stark Industries is amazing. Steve can’t believe some of the things he sees. Nothing too proprietary, of course, and Miss Potts makes him leave his phone with security before entering the labs, but they are the sorts of things he’s only read about in magazines and books. They have entire labs working on fabrics that stretch to fifty times their original size and stop bullets, force fields, search and rescue robots.

Tony catches up with them about an hour and a half later, and he throws himself into explanations and demonstrations with gusto. Watching him is like watching art. Steve wants to draw him, catch him in motion as he demonstrates how the AIs he’s got in the robots work, how he’s working on teaching robots how to adapt to different situations. Steve tries to ask questions, but he’s not sure he can keep up. Tony doesn’t seem to mind though.

He doesn’t realise how much time has passed until Miss Potts says, “If you want to get back to Brooklyn by five, we’re going to have to finish up.” She sounds apologetic. Steve looks at the clock and frowns.

“Call Happy,” Tony says. “he’ll bring the car around and drop you wherever you need to be.”

“That’s OK. I can get the subway,” Steve says.

“Nonsense, Happy’s just sitting around. It’ll give him something to do, and I’m not planning on going anywhere tonight,” Tony says. “Go on.”

Before Steve can protest again, Miss Potts has already called Tony’s driver and Steve finds himself in the back of a car.

Luckily Sam doesn’t see him pull up, though he does make fun of the suit as Steve shucks his jacket and tie and rolls his sleeves up.

“Where were you? Lawyer’s office?” Sam asks.

“I went to return Mr Stark’s shirt,” Steve says.

“Did Mr Stark appreciate the delivery service?” Sam asks.

“I think so,” Steve says. He waits, lifting a chair up. “He gave me his number.” Sam splutters behind him.

“You got Tony Stark’s number?” Sam asks.

“Yes.”

“No way – there’s no way you just walked into Stark Tower and got Tony Stark’s number,” Sam says. “I call bullshit.”

“Well, I did.” Steve says, feeling smug.

“You’re telling me you’ve got moves?” Sam asks. “I’ve seen you try to chat people up, Steve. We all remember Peggy.” Steve flushes to his hairline. Yeah, everyone remembers Peggy, where Steve had said invariably the wrong thing time and again.

“Well, maybe I learned from my mistakes,” Steve says.

“Or maybe you’re full of shit. Prove it.”

Steve frowns.

“You want me to prove that I have his number.”

“Yeah, call him up… or ask for a photo,” Sam says.

“I’m not going to call him up just because you don’t believe me,” Steve says. “That’s not my problem. I got his number.”

“If you say so, Steve,” Sam says, patting him on the arm. Steve just rolls his eyes.

*

It takes him two days to work up to actually using the number. Bucky’s been teasing him nonstop, and Clint’s sceptical about the whole thing. And Steve just can’t think of what to say. In the end it doesn’t matter anyway. He just sends a “Hi Tony,” and doesn’t hear anything back until the middle of the night, when he’s fast asleep. He wakes up to five texts and a photo of a robot trying to make a smoothie.

After that it just seems to work out. It’s easier to talk to Tony when Tony’s not right in front of him, looking unattainable and reminiscent of so many nights’ fantasies. Talking via text makes him just another person, though not really. There’s still flirting, but that’s easier too, with more time to think about it. It’s a dangerous sort of conversation though, because Steve’s not thinking of him as unattainable anymore. He’s not thinking of Tony as a celebrity, someone who’s going to be gone from his life in a matter of days or weeks. He’s getting in too deep. This was supposed to be a one off thing, a memory that he’d get to keep.

Tony Stark doesn’t do serious. Steve knows that. Everyone in the world knows that. But Steve’s starting to realise that he’s serious about Tony, even if it’ll never work the other way round.

He can’t bring himself to stop it, though. He’s going to take what he can get.

*

When Tony finally does show up to return Steve’s shirt, three weeks later, Steve feels like he’s known the man for years, and when he opens the door to a familiar smiling face, his heart beats in double time, almost audible even over the hubbub that is his friends arguing behind him about who the best batman is. Clint likes George Clooney. But Clint is insane.

The sudden static of seeing Tony in person again is jolting. Steve can feel it fizzing up his limbs, his stomach swooping a little.

“Tony!” he says, and the surprise must be evident on his face, because Tony’s smile falls a bit and Steve can see him looking over Steve’s shoulder to where the rest of them are piled onto the too small sofas in the apartment, scuffling over pizza slices.

“Right, you’re busy,” Tony says, a look of self-deprecation on his face. “I should have asked. I just…” he holds up the t-shirt and Steve reaches out to take it, and then reaches out his other arm to grasp at Tony’s elbow, just to keep him there, because he has the feeling that this moment, like all the others, is about to slip through his fingers, and he can’t let that happen, not again.

“You could join us,” he says. “If you like pizza and bad movies.”

“I don’t want to intrude,” Tony says, hesitantly, but Steve knows from the look on his face that he’s already won.

“You won’t be. I mean, I’m not sure there’s anywhere to sit and you’ll be lucky if there’s any pepperoni left, but I’d love it if you joined us.”

“And everyone else?” Tony asks.

“The more the merrier,” Steve says, and tugs Tony into the apartment.

Full of people, the place seems even smaller. The sofas are just about big enough for two, but Scott takes an arm, so he, Natasha and Sam, who has stolen Steve’s place while he got up, are managing to fit on one, and Bucky and Clint are lying on top of each other in the other one.

Steve and Tony walk in and most of the room stops talking, staring at them. From behind Tony’s back, Steve glares at them.

“Hey!” Scott says, easily, not seeming to sense the sudden pause in the room, his mouth’s full of pizza, and he extends a hand to Tony. “New guy! You Steve’s new boyfriend?” Steve winces. “The one he’s been texting.”

Steve realises that somehow, in this whole mess, no one has actually told Scott who Tony is.

And Scott doesn’t seem to have realised. Either that or he’s doing a damn good impression of it.

Steve looks at Bucky, who shrugs and pokes at Clint until his boyfriend moves over into his lap, leaving enough space for someone else to sit down.

“Tony,” Bucky says. “Good to see you again. “You wanna sit down?”

“Don’t mind me,” Tony says. “I’m good on the floor.”

“You can’t-“ Steve says, but Tony’s already dragging a cushion and propping himself up against the sofa. Steve stares. There is something simultaneously completely normal and completely wrong about Tony, in jeans and a faded old band t-shirt and leather jacket sitting on his floor.

“More space for us,” Clint says with a shrug, contorting himself again until he’s back lying out, head pillowed on Bucky’s abs.

Which means Steve’s on the floor as well, oh well.

After their momentary surprise everyone does a good job of sliding back into normal, although all of them, even Natasha keep giving Tony sidelong glances and mouthing things at Steve behind Tony’s back. Apart from Scott, who is blissfully ignorant of anything weird going on at all.

Tony eats pizza and watches terrible films with them. It’s… normal enough that Steve feels a warmth settling in his stomach, like this is right. He could get used to this. The room is squashed enough that he ends up pushed right up against Tony, their sides touching all the way down to their ankles. And somewhere in the middle of the film, their fingers tangle together and Steve has to force himself not to look at Tony because he knows he won’t look away again. He doesn’t need to give Bucky further ammunition.

“So what do you do, Tony?” Scott asks in a break between films. The pizza is all gone by now, the last slice snaffled away by Lucky whose tail was wagging lazily at Clint’s feet.

Everyone turns to look at Scott. It’s one of those moments where no one can quite think of the words to say.

“I’m a mechanic,” Tony says after a moment, squeezing Steve’s hand slightly, as if in reassurance.

“Oh, like cars and things? Nice. I do a little myself. But I’m more of a software guy, these days. A worker drone, you know. It must be nice to work with your hands more.”

Steve grits his teeth. He’s aware of Sam’s leg, resting against his shoulder, shaking with barely suppressed laughter.

“Yeah, I like the more hands on approach,” Tony says, completely relaxed. “I do some programming myself from time to time.”

Steve smothers the groan that wants to escape his throat, remembering Tony’s AIs and the huge holographic displays that he’d been shown.

“Excellent!” Scott says. “It’s good to know what’s going on, right? The software from these big companies, it’s all proprietary. You need to know how to make it work for you, otherwise you don’t know what you’re getting. And you need to know how to get it to all work together.”

“Open source is important,” Tony says, “And cross platform compatibility is just common sense these days. You can’t guarantee that any person will only have one brand, and people shouldn’t be forced to buy a brand just so they can get their tech to work together…” Tony catches Steve’s eye and smiles a bit. “Of course, some hardware’s better than others.”

“Well yeah, you should see my computer. Built it up from scratch. I’m working on…” Scott begins to describe something that Steve doesn’t understand, but Tony keeps with it. Of course he understands, but he actually seems interested. They’re discussing the benefits of different coding languages when Tony excuses himself to go to the bathroom. He drops a kiss on Steve’s lips as he gets up.

It’s almost enough to make up for the fact that as soon as he’s gone, the aggressive whispering begins.

“Fuck Steve,” Sam says. “That’s Tony Stark.” Natasha’s saying something in Russian, Clint’s signing something enthusiastic about Steve getting in there, and Bucky’s saying that they’re going to Clint’s tonight. Steve’s got the place to himself.

It takes a second for it to filter into Scott’s mind as he looks around at them in confusion.

“Tony… SHIT That’s Tony Stark!” he hisses. “Your boyfriend is Tony Stark?”

“Not… We haven’t. It’s not like that,” Steve says, but Scott’s burying his head in his hands, groaning.

“I can’t believe I just said all that to Tony Stark. Why didn’t you stop me? He’s Tony Stark… fuck.”

The whispering ends abruptly as they hear the bolt slide back, and everyone pretends to be talking about something else, very obviously. Steve tries to smile an apology at Tony, but he just shrugs.

“We should be going,” Bucky says.

“Don’t you… live here?” Tony says.

“We’re staying at Clint’s tonight,” Bucky says. “Aren’t we?” He elbows Clint.

“What? Oh… yeah? We’ve got to be in for the… carpet man, tomorrow.”

“The carpet man?” Tony asks.

“I’m getting a new carpet,” Clint says, Bucky nods furiously. “I set the old one on fire…”

“Right,” Tony says.

Sam makes a show of yawning, stretching his arms over his head.

“It is getting late,” he says.

“It’s nine o’clock,” Tony says again.

“I’m an early riser,” Sam replies. “You two coming? Nat, Scott?”

Scott looks around dazedly, he’s been staring at Tony as if in a dream for the last few minutes.

“Yes, we’re coming,” Natasha says. “Thanks for having us, Steve. Have a good evening.”

Scott shakes Tony’s hand overenthusiastically, not letting go quite soon enough, until Nat and Sam pull him gently away. Bucky pounds Steve on the shoulder and whispers into his ear to go for it, and Clint makes a very obscene sign as Tony’s busy telling Scott that he’ll have to take a look at some of his code some time.

They pile out of the apartment, leaving it strangely quiet and empty, and Steve looks at Tony a little helplessly, and Tony looks back with an amused smile.

“Your friends…”

“Aren’t exactly subtle,” Steve finishes. “They… I’m sorry if they were.”

“They were great,” Tony says. “So, do you think it was something I said, or…”

“Uh…” Steve knows he’s blushing again, he can feel the heat creeping over his face and he can see it in the change in Tony’s smile.

“It seemed like maybe they thought we wanted to be alone,” Tony says, taking a step forward. Steve mirrors him.

“Sometimes they have good ideas,” Steve allows.

“Yeah, I think I’d agree with that one.”

“No more interruptions this time?” Steve asks.

“Pepper has promised me that I’m free all evening,” Tony tells him.

“All evening, huh?” Steve asks. “You wanna watch another movie?”

“That wasn’t what I was thinking,” Tony says, his voice has lowered to a rumble, and Steve reaches out to pull him forward, because he’s been half hard since their hands linked together earlier. He can’t believe this is real, even as Tony’s hands are slipping under the hem of his shirt and pushing hot against the skin of Steve’s stomach. His mind’s having difficulty reconciling Tony Stark with Just Tony, who texts him half-finished sentences at two in the morning about whether it would be possible to power a car on coffee.

He decides to ignore it all, to stop thinking about Tony as Tony Stark at all, because he’s not. Right here and now, with his lips at Steve’s throat as Steve’s hand gropes at his ass, he’s not Tony Stark, he’s Tony. And if this is the only night Steve gets with him, then he’s not going to remember that he fucked Tony Stark. He’s going to remember that he had sex with Tony, who he’s maybe a little bit in love with. Tony who builds robots and licks pizza grease off his fingers. Tony whose fingers are just as tender when they’re stroking over Steve’s skin as when they were trailing over the books in Steve’s shop.

It’s Tony whose jeans he strips off. Tony who he pulls into his bedroom and Tony who he pushes down onto his bed with its too squeaky springs that make them giggle as they creak under their weight. Tony Stark was peeled off with their clothes at the door.

“We’re going to give your neighbours something to talk about,” Tony says pulling back from Steve’s mouth, his smile taking up his whole face, so bright that Steve has to kiss it.

“Good,” Steve says. He lowers his head to kiss along Tony’s chest, tracing the scars there with his tongue. He knows a little about where they came from, but he doesn’t ask for more. He follows them downwards and then tracks lines across Tony’s abs with his tongue. He loves the taste of Tony’s skin. It tastes warm. He didn’t even know that warm was a taste until now, warm and salt and Tony.

He groans a bit at the thought of what he’s about to do, and Tony’s cock is brushing against his throat. He reaches out to the bedside table to grab a condom. From the box there, optimistically bought a few months ago.

“Steve,” Tony lets out. “Fuck, please. You have no idea how much I’ve thought about your mouth.”

Steve pulls up, grinning a bit.

“I have no idea?” he asks. “Do you know how much I’ve thought about you?” Tony makes an incomprehensible sound. “I’ve been thinking about you since I was seventeen.”

“Fuck,” Tony says. Steve smiles and rolls the condom down over Tony’s dick.

“That too,” Steve agrees, then he bends back down to give an experimental lick to the head of Tony’s cock. It’s like hitting a switch, tony jerks all over, his whole body going taut. It’s beautiful to watch. Some days Steve wishes he’d pursued art rather than literature. He wants to capture this moment, the bow of Tony’s body as he throws his head back, the clutch of his hands against Steve’s sheets as Steve wraps his lips around Tony’s cock. The shape of his mouth as he cries out Steve’s name.

This moment, captured in charcoal. God… Tony’s a freaking masterpiece.

It’s been a while since Steve’s given a blow job, but he puts his all into finding out what works for Tony, listening to the words and sounds that pour out of Tony’s mouth, because Tony’s never quiet. He wants to remember everything, wants to remember exactly what he has to do with his tongue to get Tony to give that startled yelp of pleasure and buck up, he wants to remember the feel of Tony’s hand in his hair, urging, but never pushing. The smell of sex and sweat gathering together, and the taste of condom, flavoured apparently, Steve hadn’t even noticed. The sound of Tony’s breathy encouragement and praise.

“You’re a fucking demon at this, Rogers. God Steve… knew you’d be good at this. You’re so fucking pretty.” Tony’s entirely too coherent for Steve’s tastes, so he dedicates himself to taking care of that, experimenting, licking sucking, taking as much of Tony in his mouth as he can and undulating his tongue along the bottom of his cock, until he pulls back just to circle the tip with his tongue. Reaching his hand up to cup Tony’s balls, massaging them with his fingers.

Tony’s climax comes as a surprise, he’s so caught up in what he’s doing, but then Tony’s calling out, incoherently and bucking off the bed, jerking so suddenly he hits the back of Steve’s throat, and Steve can feel the tightness and then the ripples that pass through his body.

He pulls off as Tony melts back into the bed, running his hands up Tony’s body gently, watching him respond. He grins as Tony opens lazy eyes to blink up at him.

“Damn you look smug,” Tony says.

“You’re amazing,” Steve says. He’s lost all filter with arousal, looking at Tony like this, seeing him come apart under his mouth it was… it was hotter than he’d ever thought it could be. He wants this forever. He wants to wake up to this. He wants to see Tony this languid and fucked out whenever he can. He reaches out to touch again, just to make sure it’s real, and Tony catches his hand and pulls it to his mouth, reaching out to suck his fingers, lapping his tongue against them in an echo of what Steve had just done to him.

Steve can’t keep the moan inside his throat.

“My turn,” Tony says, his smile turning wicked. He pushes Steve onto his back and then begins to run his fingers over Steve’s chest, kissing at the edge of his mouth, pulling Steve’s bottom lip between his teeth to worry at it gently.

Fingers dance over Steve’s nipples, tugging a little as they go and Steve squirms, arousal making everything oversensitive.

“Not going to last long…” he admits. Tony’s mouth draws down to his ear.

“You’ll last as long as I want you to,” Tony breathes into his ear. “And I’ve been waiting to get my hands on you for too long to waste this opportunity.” Steve groans.

Tony’s not cruel, but he’s calculating, while Steve was surprised by Tony’s orgasm, Tony seems to see Steve’s coming a mile off. Every time he gets close, Tony draws back, slows things down. He’s not even using his mouth, just his hands, most of the time, and Steve’s coming apart at the seams.

It seems to go on forever, until Steve’s begging and keening Tony’s name out, desperate. Tony’s found some lube from the same drawer as the condoms and he’s got one slick finger pushing lightly at the ring of muscle behind Steve’s perineum, and he’s whispering how gorgeous Steve is, how amazing, how good he looks, how perfect he feels.

And then he’s pumping at Steve’s cock with one hand, one finger still pushing ever so gently into his ass and Steve can’t do anything but make little moans.

“That’s right,” Tony breathes, their faces so close together that he’s saying the words right into Steve’s mouth, his eyes all that Steve can see. “Let me watch you come apart. Let go… let go.” He twists the hand on Steve’s dick and, pushes the other finger in at the same time and that’s that, Steve’s gone, he’ comes with a cry that turns into a sob, splattering come over both Tony’s hand and Steve’s stomach.

“Beautiful,” Tony says.

Steve’s dimly aware that as it’s his flat, he should be the one on clean up duty, but he’s floating away right now, every nerve ending singing, and the shudders of his orgasm still running through him. He hasn’t come that hard in… he can’t remember ever coming that hard.

He knows Tony’s moving about, but Steve doesn’t work out where he’s gone until there’s a warm wet cloth wiping him down. He whimpers a bit as it touches parts of him that are still a little too sensitive. Then the cloths gone and Tony’s standing by the bed.

Steve reaches out a hand and pulls him down onto the bed again, wrapping himself around him. Tony’s warm and soft all over, still with that well-fucked lassitude that Steve’s enjoying.

“You’re a cuddler, huh?” Tony says. Steve mumbles something into the curve of Tony’s shoulder that even he can’t understand, but it must make sense to Tony, because an arm wraps around him too, and that’s perfect. It’s all perfect.

He drifts off to sleep.

*

It’s not perfect when he wakes up. Tony’s got his phone caught between his shoulder and his ear and he’s fully dressed, his boot’s half tied.

“Wha’?” Steve asks.

“How was I supposed to know that was going to happen?” Tony asks. “Yes, I know that now. But I didn’t know he was a dick back then, did I?” All the relaxation of the previous night is gone. Tony’s tense and agitated, every movement jerky. A lace slips out of his finger as he pulls it too hard and he curses. “Look Pep, I’m on my way. I’m not going to… what do you mean am I in Brooklyn? How do you know where I am?”

Steve pulls himself up to sitting, leaning back against the wall, because the bed’s too cheap to come with a headboard. He reaches out a hand to touch Tony’s arm, but it’s shrugged off.

“Of course they are,” Tony says, sighing. He looks angry, he looks tired. Steve wants to kiss the frown off his face, but he doesn’t think he’d be welcome. Tony stands up without looking back at him and heads to the window to peer out between the curtains. “Fuck. You’re right. They’re camped on the doorstep. Look, Pep. I’ll deal with it. I know…”

“What’s going on?” Steve asks. Tony pulls the phone away from his ear enough to give Steve a hard look.

“One of your friends decided to tell the press where to find me, that’s what,” Tony says. Steve jerks back, because he can’t imagine any of them doing that.

“The what?”

“The press, the paparazzi,” Tony says. “It’s fine. I can deal with it. It’s what I do, right?”

“Are you sure they didn’t find out some other way?” Steve asks. He looks at the clock, it’s five in the morning. “Look, just leave it a couple of hours, I’m sure they’ll go away.”

“No Steve, they won’t go away,” Tony snaps. “They don’t go away. They will be out there until they get their story, and that story is you. Tony Stark fucks a bookshop owner from Brooklyn. I’m sure you’ll get your fifteen minutes of fame, though.”

“What?” Steve sits up straighter. “Tony that’s not what…”

“Right, you’re here because you’ve always wanted to have a go. Glad I could help you out with that.”

“Tony.”

“Well, you had your turn, thanks for a fun night,” Tony says. “But I guess it’s back to reality now. Happy’s coming to pick me up. See you around.”

Tony heads for the door, and Steve can feel the anger welling up in his gut.

“What? You think I just… You think this was just so that I could say I slept with the great Tony Stark?” he asks.

“Wasn’t it?” Tony says. “You said it yourself, you’ve been thinking of this since you were seventeen.” He jerks open the door, not seeming to notice that Steve’s standing there naked. “I hope it lived up to expectations.

There’s a flash of a camera bulb and Steve rushes to grab something to cover himself. Tony turns, pushing his sunglasses onto his face, one hand going up.

“If you print that picture I will ruin you,” he says, his voice lowering to tones that sound dangerous. Then he slams the door shut behind him and Steve doesn’t hear anymore.

Steve’s mind’s a mess. He doesn’t know what to think, what to do. His mind’s confused about whether to be more alarmed about Tony or the fact that a picture of him naked might be on the front pages of the gossip rags tomorrow.

He sits down on the sofa unsteadily, lowering his head into his hands and swears, his voice shaky and still too quiet, even in the empty room.

When the fuck did everything go wrong?

*

His friends are great at being friends, but rubbish at being sensitive. They try not to talk about Tony. Steve’s only told Bucky about that morning, but the rest of them know that it ended wrong and that Steve’s being an idiot and pining over some famous guy who doesn’t like him back. They avoid the subject like rhinos, stomping around the edges of it with no finesse.

The picture of Steve naked doesn’t end up in the papers, though he half keeps an eye out for it with a sense of horrified dread.

Other pictures of him do. The press want to know who exactly it was that Tony Stark was seeing that morning.

It seems that the crisis that pulled Tony from his bed that morning was the reveal of a very explicit sex tape from Tony’s past, leaked by an opportunistic boyfriend. And Steve can maybe see where Tony was coming from in that light, with the press outside the door, although all Steve’s friends swear they didn’t tell. Steve’s half convinced that it was Mrs Ferrera, she’s been looking particularly smug, and she’s bought herself a new television, among other things. Bucky’s started stealing her paper in the morning, but Steve forces himself to be civil. She’s been living off food stamps, it makes sense she’d want to get a bit of money. It’s not her fault that Steve got so caught up in fantasy he forgot about the crunch when he fell back down to earth.

Tony’s in all the newspapers, mostly saying no comment. There are exposés about him, people write scathing articles about how he’ll never be more than the party boy he was before. They mock him and every time Steve sees another article like that, he wants to punch another reporter in the face.

It’s not fair, it’s not right. The scandal’s covering up all the good Tony’s doing. It lumps his night with Steve into his party boy ways and as much as Steve wants to tell people it wasn’t like that, he knows better than to give the scavengers what they’re looking for. And there’s also a part of him that doesn’t want Tony to see it, doesn’t want him to be proved right by Steve actually talking to the press, getting his fifteen minutes of fame, even if they are fifteen minutes of setting the record straight.

He doubts they’d listen anyway.

He texts an apology. He texts explanations. He texts requests for Tony to reply just so Steve will know he’s alright. For a couple of weeks after it happens, Steve hopes that maybe Tony will just… show up again, in his bookshop (sales go up after Steve’s in the newspaper, apparently scandal is good for business, but Steve would rather have Tony in an empty shop). But he doesn’t.

Instead he reads on the fansites that Tony’s back in Malibu. He sees pictures of him at a party, arm around a supermodel’s waist.

He doesn’t look happy, but Steve gets the message. Tony doesn’t need him. Tony doesn’t want him. And Steve should just back off.

He sends one last text message. He’s drunk and it’s three in the morning and Bucky’s at Clint’s so he can’t stop him from reaching for his phone.

I miss you, He sends.

And then he’s done.

“Did you even want that?” Sam asks. “I mean, look at the crazy. That guy’s surrounded by it. You’re better off out of it.”

Everyone else seems to agree. Tony’s world is a world of press and flashbulbs and sex scandals. Steve’s world is a world of sitting in a bookshop and helping people find Vonnegut. He’s better this way. He had his night, he has his memories. He got to see Tony, the real Tony, and nothing is ever going to take that away from him. He’s got to be happy with that and move on.

Natasha tries to set him up. It doesn’t work. He tells himself that he’s not comparing their smiles to the slow, gentle pull of Tony’s lips that lit up his eyes. He tells himself that he’s not comparing their voices to the low sound of Tony whispering in his ear. He’s lying, but it’s a useful lie.

Five months later and he’s over it. He’s over it and everything is fine.

Then the invitation comes in the mail.

It’s addressed to Bucky, not Steve, and it’s a very formal affair. There’s nothing personal about it. As the owner of a Stark prosthetic, Bucky plus guest have been invited to a display of the new Stark Prosthetics line in three months time. Limited offer discounts on upgrades to current prosthetics will be available along with Stark technicians ready and willing to help with any queries you might have, interactive demonstrations and a talk by designer, CEO and head of R&D on the project, Tony Stark himself.

Steve’s heart skips a beat in his chest.

“I’m not going,” Bucky says.

“You’ve got to go,” Steve tells him. “Upgrades. You know T… Tony said he was working on getting rid of the sensation lag. You can’t miss out on the opportunity just because our relationship didn’t work out.”

“So it was a relationship now?” Bucky asks. Steve shrugs.

“That’s what I wanted it to be,” he says.

“So I can go?” Bucky asks. Steve nods.

“You have to go. Your arm’s more important than my…”

Bucky claps him on the shoulder.

“Do you think the new model will be better for jerking off?” he asks, breaking the tension. Steve rolls his eyes. “I mean, Clint likes it at the moment, but it’s just quite got the response time you need, you know.”

“Fuck off, Buck,” Steve tells him. “I do not need to know about that.”

“But you’re my brother,” Bucky tells him, swinging said arm over Steve’s shoulders. Steve has to remind himself that he has always known where that arm had been in a theoretical sense. It doesn’t make any difference now he knows more explicitly. “We tell each other everything.”

“And I’m telling you to fuck off,” Steve says. “Now go tell Clint he’s got to get something nice to wear if he’s taking you out to that thing.”

“You think he’ll come?” Bucky asks.

“Tell him there’s free food,” Steve points out. Bucky beams and grabs his phone.

*

Three months passes too quickly. Steve dates a bit more, even managing to make it to three dates with one particular girl, but he can’t bring himself to try for more. Sharon’s nice enough, but she deserves someone who actually wants to be with her and isn’t hung up on someone he’ll never get.

The day of the Stark expo comes, and Bucky and Clint are getting ready in Steve’s apartment, or rather Bucky’s getting ready and Clint’s wrestling with Lucky over a chew toy.

“Aren’t you going to get changed?” Steve asks. Clint shrugs.

“Plenty of time,” he says, dangling the toy for Lucky to bite at again.

Steve feels twitchy. His body’s practically vibrating with anticipation. Bucky and Clint are going to see Tony. They’re going to be right there. Maybe they’ll get to talk to him. Maybe he’ll recognise them. Steve can’t quite handle it. The idea of having Tony so close to him, but it not being him. He wants to go. The idea of seeing Tony is just too big a lure. He’s been back to looking for his pictures in magazines and online. He knows that Tony’s been in New York for a week. He’s gone down to the subway and considered going into Manhattan to Stark Tower and just walking in again. But he’s restrained himself.

Tony’s made it absolutely clear that he is not interested. He knows where Steve is, he knows Steve’s number.

But shit, Steve really want to see him. He knows it will hurt. He knows it’ll rip open old wounds, but it feels like maybe those wounds healed wrong anyway. He can’t get Tony out of his head. Maybe he has to say goodbye. They left it so abruptly last time.

“Clint…” he says. “Do you mind-”

“If you go with Bucky instead?” Clint asks. “Not at all.” He pulls the suit bag from the sofa behind him. “Here you go.”

“What?” Steve asks, looking down at the case in his hands.

“We knew you’d end up wanting to go,” Bucky says, stepping out of his bedroom in his suit, looking sophisticated like Steve can never pull off. “We were just waiting for you to ask.”

“You know it’s not my kind of thing,” Clint adds. “I was beginning to think you’d chicken out.”

“But this is your suit,” Steve says.

“No, it’s yours,” Bucky says. “Go put it on. You don’t want to be late.”

*

The suit is new. Bucky and Clint must have bought it for him, and it fits like it was tailored for him. Steve’s never going to be able to pay them back for it.

Bucky gives him an unimpressed look when he tries to point that out.

“You not moping on the sofa will be payment enough,” he says.

“Yeah, dude. You were even making Lucky sad,” Clint adds. “Now get going you two, or you’re going to make us miss dog cops.”

“Love you too, hon,” Bucky says, pulling Clint into a messy kiss, then adding a sloppy one to his cheek. Clint screws up his nose and wipes the saliva off on his sleeve.

“I’ve already got one dog to slobber all over me, don’t need another one. Now go! Cinderella must get to the ball.”

*

Steve feels like a ticking bomb. His stomach’s tied in knots. He’s not even sure what he’s going to do. Maybe he built the whole thing up in his head. He’s so sure that he meant something to Tony, but maybe he didn’t. Maybe there won’t even be anything there when he sees him. Maybe the spark will be gone.

“Worrying won’t get nothing done,” Bucky says. They’ve got an uber, if only to save their dress shoes. “What’s going to happen’s going to happen, Stevie. Don’t get yourself worked up before it has a chance to.”

“You’re trying to be wise,” Steve says.

“Is it working?” Bucky asks.

“Well you only sound about half as idiotic as usual.”

“Shut up,” Bucky mutters. “Last time I try to make you feel better. Stew in your own juices then, see if I help.”

Steve chuckles, relaxing a bit. It’s good to have Bucky there.

He’s getting so worked up over nothing.

*

The prosthetics are amazing. Bucky makes the most of things, wading right in to ask questions and test out the new arms. He signs up for the upgrades and get some routine maintenance work done for free by one of the techs, but all of that’s a blur to Steve. He’s on high alert, eyes darting everywhere looking for Tony. Is he lurking around?

But he doesn’t see him, not until the main event.

They gather round the stage. Steve restrains himself from pushing right up to the front.

The music booms in, classic rock, which makes him smile. Tony is always going to be Tony, and then the stage parts and the podium spins up from beneath it. There are sparks, there’s confetti, there are flashing lights, and in the middle of it all, playing the crowd like a piano, is Tony.

He raises his hands, a grin spread across his face. It’s his usual display grin, but Steve fancies that it seems a bit more genuine than usual.

Tony could say anything, Steve isn’t listening. He’s staring at Tony’s face, trying to drink it in. He’s tracking all the little changes he can find from the last time he saw him. Is that line new? Is that grey hair? Tony looks good and so very much alive. There’s a pull to his presence that never comes across through the camera, not really. His charisma in person pulls you in. Steve’s feeling flushed just looking at him.

And then, at the end of his speech, their eyes meet. There’s no question in Steve’s mind that Tony recognises him. Their eyes stick on each other and Steve can’t tear his eyes away.

He was never over this man. He’s never going to be over this man. Fuck, he’s screwed.

Steve’s smiling back inanely, as Tony’s looking out at him. He can’t help but smile because Tony’s right there.

Then the speech is over and the music’s coming up again and Tony’s eyes are dragged away from his and Steve sags like his strings have been cut. Bucky’s arm over his shoulder is the only thing keeping him steady.

“You okay?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah…” Steve says. “I mean… I need some air.”

“OK. You need me to come with you…?”

“No, no… stick around. You should be here,” Steve says, nodding to himself. He gives Bucky a weak smile. “Really, Buck. I’m fine.”

And then he runs away.

He’s already in bed by the time Bucky gets back. He hears him pause outside Steve’s bedroom door before moving on. Steve doesn’t ask how the rest of the evening went. Clint and Bucky give him strange looks all week.

*

It’s a Tuesday morning, a slow day. There aren’t any special events at the shop and most people are at work. Steve’s rearranging the young adult section in alphabetical order when the bell over the door rings.

“I’ll be with you in a second he calls,” moving Hennessey between Hearn and Hesse.

He comes back down the steps and folds them up, turning towards the door, freezing at what he sees.

“Tony,” he says. He hardly makes a sound above a breath but the man in question flinches like he yelled. Tony’s shifting from foot to foot, stretching and clenching one of his hands, his sunglasses clutched in the other one.

“Is… Is this okay?” Tony asks. “I can go if you’d prefer.”

“No,” Steve says. “This is fine. This is good. You look good.”

“It’s part of the job,” Tony says, flashing that dazzling smile. It fades and he looks around, and it’s then that Steve notices the parcel on the desk. “I brought you a present…”

Steve looks from Tony to the present and then back again.

“You didn’t have to.”

“I wanted to,” Tony says. “Look. I was unfair. I… That morning I was angry. I shouldn’t have…”

“I understand.”

“I think…” Tony’s looking at everything but Steve, his face has lost the manic edge to it, it’s soft again, quiet and secret. Steve aches to step forward and touch it. “Everyone’s after something,” he says. “And it made sense. You made sense when I looked at you like that.”

“I never wanted anything but you,” Steve says.

“Fuck,” Tony says. “And then you say things like that, and that only makes sense if you’re lying to me, but you’re not lying, are you?” Steve shakes his head. “I wasn’t going to come here. I was being good. I was going to leave you alone. I made enough of a mess of your life. But I couldn’t pull myself away. I knew that Bucky would come to the event. I thought he’d bring Clint. I thought maybe I’d talk to them, ask you how you were. I thought maybe they’d punch me in the face…” Tony laughs. It’s a broken sound. “But then you came and you were there and I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t know what to say and by the time I came back, you were gone… So I’m being selfish. I’m being selfish, because that’s the only thing I know how to be. I got your messages and I wasn’t going to say it, but I have to. I saw you and I have to say it… I miss you, too.”

Steve could feel his heartbeat in every inch of his body. This couldn’t be happening.

“And presents, people like presents, so I brought you a present. It’s not much, I couldn’t think of much you’d accept, but I thought maybe this…” Tony paused.

“I miss you, too,” Steve says, although he’s already said that.

“Right, good. That’s good.” Tony straightens up. “Because I’d like to ask, if maybe you think we could… try this out. As a thing. An us thing. I know I’m me, and my life is a mess. But I think that maybe we found something. So maybe we could try that out. Because I think… Fuck… I’ve had a lot of things that don’t mean anything. But you did. Mean something. To me. And I was hoping that maybe the feeling was mutual.”

Steve waits, but nothing else is coming. That’s it. Tony’s standing there and Steve is aware that he’s laid his heart out on the floor.

He wants to say yes. He wants to say yes, to hell with everything, wrap his arms around Tony’s neck and kiss him until they both forget there was ever anything to forget in the first place.

But he’s not a kid. He’s not naïve. This isn’t the movies and he has no place in Tony’s world. Everyone’s been telling them that he’s better off out of it. Steve is meant for bookshops and a ratty old apartment with too thin walls and nosy neighbours.

In real life, you don’t get the billionaire happy ending.

“It is,” Steve says. “Mutual. You mean something to me…” Tony starts to smile. “But…” the moment freezes and then crashes. One little word and everything broken all over again. “I saw what it’s like… your side of the camera,” he pauses. “I don’t think I can do that. I’m not… I’m not that kind of person.”

Tony recovers with his usual aplomb, the suave smile falling back over his face like a guillotine.

“Right, of course. It’s not for everyone,” he says. He nods, and Steve is killing himself watching this. “I get that. And you’re better here… you’re safe here, where they can’t get their hooks into you.” He nods. “I hope… Good luck then, all the best and all that.” Tony straightens his shoulders. “You can keep the present. It’s yours.”

He moves slowly as he heads for the door, puts his hand on the doorknob and turns back.

“Steve…” he says. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Steve replies, his voice soft. His heart is breaking all over again. But this is for the best. This is the best ending. It would only end terribly, the two of them.

The bell rings out its knell as Tony leaves the shop for the last time.

He waits until Tony has got into his car and been whisked away before he turns to the present. It’s large and cuboid and has the distinct feeling of a lot of books when he runs his fingers over it.

So Tony actually bought some books, Steve smiles. He guesses Steve did manage to persuade him to try the old fashioned way after all.

Part of him doesn’t want to open it, but he has to.

He tears open the seam, pulling off the parcel tape. It looks like it’s been wrapped by hand, the corners are all precise. Engineer’s corners, Steve’s brain says.

He peels back the paper and looks at the cover of the top book.

Isaac Asimov, paperbacks, second-hand and well loved. It looks like the entire works.

Steve runs his hand over the spines, feeling the cracks on all of them. Every book has been read a dozen times or more. He smiles. Books that have lived.

His phone rings in his pocket and Steve answers it without really thinking about it.

“Did he come?” Bucky asks. “Is he still there? Are you answering the phone in the middle of sex?”

“What?” Steve asks.

“Tony,” Bucky says. “Did he show up? Tell me he showed up. He told me he was gonna show up. If he chickened out I’m gonna drag him down there.

“No… no,” Steve says. “He came.”

“So, it’s all good then?” Bucky asks. “You two made up and made out. Please tell me he doesn’t have your dick in his mouth. You don’t sound like he’s got your dick in his mouth.”

“He left,” Steve says.

“What do you mean, he left?” Bucky asks.

“He came… he asked me if we could try again, I said no, and he left,” Steve says.

“OK, Stevie, you’ve gotta run that by me one more time, coz it sounded to me like you said no. To Tony Stark. The man who is desperately in love with you, you you’ve been pining after for over a year. The man who came all the way from California to beg you to give him a chance.”

“How do you even know what happened?”

“He spoke to me at the event, after you left,” Bucky says, “That’s not important right now, what’s important right now is the fact that you just fucked up.”

Steve hears Clint’s voice in the background asking what’s going on.

“Stevie just turned Tony down and made the biggest mistake of his fucking life, that’s what’s going on,” Bucky calls back.

“It’s not a mistake,” Steve says. “I couldn’t live like that. The paparazzi, the gossip.”

“The incredibly hot man you’re in love with willing to do anything for you,” Bucky adds.

“We’ve got to live in the real world,” Steve says.

“Or you could marry the hot billionaire and adopt me a million adorable nephews and nieces,” Bucky says. “What the fuck, Steve?”

“I second that,” Clint’s voice adds. “What the fuck, Steve? When a billionaire asks you to go out with him you say ‘yes’.”

“I’m trying to be-“ Steve flips open the cover on the top book. There are two inscriptions written onto the first page. In the top right corner, in the neat if uneven handwriting of a conscientious child, is written ‘Anthony Edward Stark aged 8’ Steve’s breath catches in his throat.

Then, underneath, in sure clean lines that are more used to blue prints, is written.

‘Steve

‘There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save.’

But you reached me.

Thank you

Love Tony.’


Bucky’s still talking at him down the phone, but the world becomes a blur.

“I think I made a mistake,” he says.

Now he gets it,” Bucky says.

“Fuck… Bucky… He’s got a private aeroplane. He could go anywhere. Stark Industries has offices all over the world. He could go to China. He could go to China.”

“It’s fine. I’m on my way.”

“I can’t go to China, Buck. I can’t afford the air fare,” Steve says. He’s still staring at the writing. He’s an idiot. He’s a complete idiot.

“You don’t have to go to China,” Bucky tells him. Steve can hear movement on his end of the line. “Even if you’re a billionaire it takes time to file a flight plan. We’re going to get him, okay.”

“If he wants me.”

“Of course he fucking wants you. Trust me, he wants you. You should have heard him after you left the other night. Look, I’ll grab the bike, we’ll go to Stark Tower, you’ll get in, and we’ll get him. It’s going to be okay, Stevie. I promise you. Sit tight. I’ll come to you.”

Bucky hangs up the phone, leaving Steve to read the words over and over again. What was he thinking? How could he have said no? He’s an idiot. He’s an idiot and Tony’s never going to speak to him again.

He’s pacing from one side of the shop to the other when Clint and Bucky show up on his motorbike, Clint hops off and hands his helmet off to Steve.

“I’ll watch the shop, you go get the guy,” he says, shoving Steve out the door.

“Don’t sell the Asimovs,” Steve calls back. “They’re mine.”

Clint nods.

Steve pulls the helmet on and climbs up behind Bucky.

“Ready?”

“Fucking go already, Buck,” Steve says.

The engine roars underneath them and they speed through the streets.

*

Steve doesn’t pause to look upwards this time, just runs through the doors to Stark tower, leaving Bucky to find somewhere to park the bike.

In his tattered jeans and t-shirt he doesn’t fit in quite as well as last time and the receptionist looks at him askance.

“I need to speak to Mr Stark,” he says.

“Do you have an appointment?” she asks.

“I need to speak to him. Please. Please just tell him that Steve Rogers is here to see him. He’ll see me. I promise.” He rises up on his toes to lean over the desk, giving the girl his most pleading look.

“I’m sorry Mr Rogers, but without an appointment I can’t let you up. Mr Stark is a very busy man and he’s asked that he not be disturbed all day.”

“Please,” Steve says. “He knows me, and it’s important. I need to talk to him about something.”

“I’m sure, but without an appointment, I’m afraid I can’t let you through,” she says.

“Look, I know you’re just doing your job but…” Steve breaks off as he heard footsteps behind him.

Bucky sidles up to the desk, putting his prosthetic hand down first, wincing as he did it.

“I’m sorry ma’am, if my friend’s causing a problem. You see it’s my arm.” The receptionist looks down at the metal, and then back up again. “It’s playing up. I saw Mr Stark at the demo last week and he gave me this card,” Bucky presents the card to the startled receptionist, “and told me to come see him immediately if I had any problems.”

The receptionist looks at the card, identifies the name on it, and looks up at him again.

“He said it wouldn’t be a problem,” Bucky says.

“I’ll just make a call,” she says, before hitting a number on the pad in front of her.

Steve turns to Bucky, who gives him a quick grin.

“Miss Potts, I have a man here to see Mr Stark about a problem with a prosthetic? He says he was told to come in straight away if there was… yes. Of course. I’ll send him right up.”

“Mr Stark will see you. He’s in his office on floor nineteen,” she says. Bucky and Steve turn to head towards the security gate. “Just you.”

“He always comes with me,” Bucky says, looking a bit lost. “I need… it’s difficult, I’m sure you understand.”

She gives him a kind look and nods.

“Of course. Go right ahead.”

They make it through the security gate, although Bucky’s arm sets everything off, but he presents his usual ‘I make metal detectors go off’ card and they wave him through.

The elevator won’t go fast enough.

“Quit fidgeting, you’re making me nervous,” Bucky says. “It’s going to be fine. You go in there, tell him you’re an idiot. You have sex on his desk and everything’s good.”

“You didn’t see him…” Steve says.

“I’ve seen enough. The two of you are so far gone on each other it’s disgusting.”

“I hurt him, Buck.”

“And you’ll hurt him again. Just promise that you’ll try your hardest not to, and that you’ll never do in on purpose, that’s all you can hope for.”

“You’re being wise again. Stop it, it doesn’t suit you.”

“Well, you’ve already used up all the stupid today,” Bucky points out.

The elevator dings softly to let them know they’ve arrived.

Steve has déjà vu as the doors slide open to reveal Pepper Potts. She takes one look at Steve and her face hardens.

“I swear I’m not here to hurt him,” Steve says. “I was wrong. I need to tell him I was wrong.” She frowns.

“Steve’s an idiot,” Bucky says, and Steve winces, but he doesn’t argue it. “But I think Tony deserves the chance to tell him that himself.”

Pepper steps aside, but she follows Steve step for step.

“I don’t know what you said to him earlier,” she whispers furiously as they reach the door with Tony’s name on it. “But if you hurt him like that again I will make sure you never see him again.” Steve nods, then looks at the door, squaring himself up to knock on it.

“Come in,” Tony calls, and Steve swings the door open slowly. “It’s a prosthetic arm, right?” he looks up and swears. “Barnes. You are an underhand son of a bitch.”

“Yep,” Bucky agrees easily. “But Stevie needed to talk to you.”

Tony pulls himself together and Steve can see him wrapping his persona around himself like armour.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says. “I was stupid. I was scared. I didn’t know what I was saying. I thought it would be easier. But… I looked in the books.”

Tony’s composure cracks, just a bit.

“If this is some sort of-“

“I love you,” Steve blurts out. The words rip out of his mouth. He hadn’t meant to say them so soon. But there they are. He’d wanted to build up to them, say something perfect that summed everything up and explained how stupid he’d been and how confused he’d been. But that was that. “I love you and I was scared, and I used you being… you to avoid thinking about you being… you“ He’s aware that Bucky and Pepper are quickly leaving the room behind him, and he advances on Tony’s desk, prepared to make his final stand.

“You’re worth it,” he says. “You’re worth all of it. I’ve spent all the time since that night wanting to see you and then when you were right in front of me, I screwed it all up again. So I’d like a do-over.”

Tony stands up, looking at him. He’s still a little guarded, a little unsure, so Steve turns and walks behind the desk, right up to him.

“You can throw me out, and you can fly to China so you never have to see me again,” he says. “But I had to tell you I’m sorry and I love you.”

“Steve,” Tony starts, and Steve can’t quite hold back, he leans up, leaving just enough distance, hoping that Tony will close it. The moment seems to stretch out forever.

Then Tony leans down and their lips meet again. Tony hooks a hand around him and yanks him forward until their bodies are flush together, then he turns him so Steve’s perched on the edge of his desk.

“Fuck, I wanted to do that this morning,” Steve says. “I wanted to do that last week.”

“I’ve been wanting to do that forever,” Tony says, leaning their foreheads together, and Steve chases his lips back again.

It’s a tangle of hands and clothes and kissing, every time Steve pulls his mouth away from Tony’s skin he says sorry or I love you, or tells Tony exactly how hot he thinks he looks.

They don’t hear the door crack open.

“Does this mean Clint and I have the apartment to ourselves tonight?” Bucky asks. Steve doesn’t bother answering, his back’s pressed against the desk, his legs are wrapped around Tony’s back and his hands are making the most of his tie.

The door doesn’t close, and Tony pulls his mouth away from Steve’s to look up at them.

“That will be all, Miss Potts,” he says.

She shuts the door and Tony bends down again, his face hovering just over Steve’s.

“I have had so many dreams that started just like this,” he says, nuzzling down further to bite at Steve’s jaw.

“Me too,” Steve admits. “How about we compare notes?”

“I’ll go first,” Tony tells him, reaching down to undo Steve’s belt.

“What a coincidence, that’s how mine went too.”

“Great minds,” Tony says, but he runs out of words as Steve uses his tie to pull him back down again.