At first Steve didn't really notice it.
It's harder to see in the nicer restaurants that Tony takes him to, where the bill is brought out discreetly in a little black book and the payment taken away the same way. Tony's rule is that whoever picks the restaurant also picks up the tab, which Steve has always figured was fair enough. And in those first few months Tony mostly takes him to nice places. Not always expensive, but always the kind of place where you don't have to pay the tab at the front counter. So Steve never really noticed.
But after a while they get more comfortable with each other and the new roles they've taken on – Steve will never say Tony-the-boyfriend is more important to him than Tony-the-friend-and-teammate had been, he'd have gladly died for the man long before they started having sex and hinting at moving in together after all, but it is a different sort of relationship and it takes some getting used to – and they ease up a little on the formality of the whole thing. They still go to fancy restaurants and they still dress up nicely, but sometimes they ditch the team and just grab burgers at the old-fashioned malt-shoppe where MJ Parker used to work.
And that's when he starts to notice.
“We could catch a movie?” Tony suggests with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. He's making the face that says he's willing to spend two and a half hours in an overcrowded movie theater eating fake-buttered popcorn and ignoring the crying babies in the audience, but only because he loves Steve so damn much. Steve sees that face a lot, mostly when it involves going for a morning run.
“It's too nice to be cooped up indoors all night,” Steve says. “We could just take a walk through Central Park?”
“And get shot,” Tony said.
“It won't be dark for a couple of hours yet,” Steve said.
“I was unaware that people only got shot in the dark,” Tony says, but his lips are pursed and his eyes are crinkling, which means he's only being difficult because he feels like playing.
“I'll make you a deal.” Steve leans forward across the nearly empty table, the remnants of their meal long gone and only Tony's empty coffee mug and a half-eaten slice of pecan pie remaining along with the check. “You keep me company for a walk in the park, and we can do whatever you want when we get home.”
“This sounds like a familiar bargain,” Tony said. “I could swear I agreed to something similar that resulted in me having to jog two miles every other morning like an extra from Stripes.”
“That deal gets you a blowjob in the shower afterwards,” Steve reminded him, one eyebrow arched meaningfully.
“I like where this is going.” Tony grabs a last mouthful of pie, then tosses his fork to the table. “All right, Captain. You have yourself a deal. One life-threatening-”
“Romantic,” Steve interjected cheerfully.
“-death march through Central Park. At your command.” He reaches into his pocket and drops a few bills onto the table as he stands. “I'll meet you out front.”
Steve stands when Tony does, but after Tony leaves for the restroom, Steve lingers. And, for no particular reason that he can every pinpoint later on, Steve looks at the money.
There are two tens.
The check – Steve's eyes go to it automatically – is $19.28.
It's a mistake – of course it is. Tony thought one of the bills was a twenty, most likely. Pointing it out would just be awkward, so Steve takes another ten out of his own pocket. By the time Tony gets back from the men's room, the whole thing has completely slipped his mind.
Until it happens again.
There's the family-style Mexican restaurant that Tony takes him to because Steve's never had nopales and this was evidently a travesty that required their immediate attention. They're good – crisp and a little tart – but Steve's enjoying the sight of Tony Stark in a family-style restaurant more than he is the food, to be honest.
It's a Friday night and the place is fairly crowded, mostly what looks like families crowded into booths and around tables pushed together. The bar area is full of couples or small groups of women, but the dining room is packed full of kids. The noise level is pretty high, even discounting the Top 40 music being piped in through the speakers in the ceiling. It's not the type of place they usually go, but according to Tony's phone it had been the closest Mexican food available when Tony decided Steve's horizons needed to be broadened. The waitress doesn't seem to recognize them at all as she checks in on them, cheerful and bubbly and chatting happily about their plans for the evening. She obviously thinks Tony is charming and Steve squishes the totally ungentlemanly feelings of pride and possessiveness that he feels whenever someone else flirts with his boyfriend, even when it's completely harmless.
It occurs to Steve that they've never really been in a restaurant like this together. Not unless you count IHOP or McDonalds. He wouldn't have expected a place like this to fit them, but now he's chewing on a forkful of prickly pear cactus, watching Tony sip a virgin margarita while two little girls at the table next to theirs hold up their paper placemats to show the picture they drew of Iron Man riding a cartoon pony with rainbow colored hair and he thinks he kind of likes this.
He's tempted to say something along those lines to Tony, but he's not sure if he could adequately explain it, this feeling of almost normalcy that it brings him. He's almost certain that a man who's only just started thinking about them moving in together, who still hesitates to say the words I love you even though Steve can tell he means them, might panic a little at being told his boyfriend enjoys seeing him surrounded by married couples and kids. That might be the very definition of moving too fast.
On the way out, Tony stops by the table next to theirs and autographs the little girls' drawing. Their waitress waves goodbye from one of her other tables.
Steve figures he just got distracted by the girls, and surreptitiously leaves a few bills on the table to cover the tip.
It happens again when Steve swings by SI to take Tony to lunch a few days later. Tony is in between meetings, his tie loose around his collar, his sleeves rolled up, his hair messed from Tony running his hands through it. He's been putting out fires all day, and Steve feels a little bad for interrupting his day right up until Tony looks up from his desk and sees Steve standing there. Tension bleeds out of his shoulders and the edges of his eyes crinkle, and his mouth, which had been a hard flat line of displeasure, turns up into an easy smile.
Steve smiles back and pledges to surprise Tony like this more often.
Tony explains that there's something wrong with a product line and paints a doomsday picture of falling stock prices and canceled contracts, but Pepper had waved them both out the door and Tony sounded annoyed, not worried, so Steve knew that Tony was just venting. Whatever it was was fixable, and he was confident Tony would fix it.
He told Tony so, and the man's surprised and grateful smile made Steve's stomach warm.
Tony couldn't spare much time since they were on a deadline, so he drags Steve down to the street outside SI. There are a half dozen vendor carts set up – hotdogs and pretzels, a guy selling salads and sandwiches, a cart promising authentic Thai food. Tony makes a beeline for the cart immediately outside SI's courtyard. “Best Philly-style cheese steaks in the world,” he says with a passion that he normally reserves for robotics and bedroom activities. There's a line of people waiting to order, most of them wearing SI name badges. A young woman is taking their orders and giving change while an older guy mans the grill. The guy spots Tony and waves him to the side of the cart.
“Yo, Mikey, we're in a rush today.” Tony leans on the edge of the cart and peers through the window at the grill. “Can you hook us up? Steve's never had one of your sandwiches before.”
Mikey grins at him as he begins to put a couple of sandwiches together. “Well, shit. Captain America eating one of my sandwiches. Who would have thought.”
“Iron Man eats your sandwiches all the time,” Tony said. He frowns over his sunglasses, and his tone is playful indignation. “I don't see you getting all excited about that.”
“Whatever. Everyone knows rich guys are weird. Cap's a man of the people!” Mikey winks at Steve while Tony sputters. “Here you go, gents.”
Tony grabs one of the sandwiches and takes a huge bite. He moans and sags against the side of the cart. “Oh my god,” he says around a mouthful of ribeye and melted cheese. “Better than sex.”
“I feel like that's a challenge,” Steve said as he accepted his own sandwich. It was piled high with sauteed meat, cheese, onions and peppers and the first bite almost melted in his mouth.
Tony swallowed and licked his lips. “You know how I love a challenge,” he said.
“Man, I serve food here,” Mikey said. He waved a spatula at them. “Move it along, lovebirds. Nice to meet'cha, Cap. Anytime you feel like a real cheese steak, come see me, I'll hook you up.”
“Thank you,” Steve said, licking a stray blob of cheese off the back of his thumb. He dug a couple of bills out of his pocket but Mikey waved him off.
“On the house, as usual for Mr. Stark,” he said with an easy smile. “Now scram, I got customers.”
Steve saw a small plastic tip cup by the girl manning the cash registers and jammed the bills in there before he jogged to catch up with Tony who had grabbed a seat on the edge of the fountain. “Free lunch. He must like you.”
“I'm good for business,” Tony says. He's smiling and there's cheese on the corner of his mouth.
Steve's only too happy to lean in and lick it off for him.
There's a tip jar at the donut place Tony loves so much. All of the Avengers know the place by heart – Tony's literally weak in the knees for their country-style donuts and over the years the team has probably eaten enough of them to keep the place in business.
The staff knows Tony and Steve both on sight and the guy behind the counter offers then a two-fingered wave as they walk in, the bell above the door jangling pleasantly. Tony is in a mood – borderline hyper and bubbling over with energy. He's beautiful when he gets like this – his movements like an aborted dance as he shifts from one foot to the other, spins in place to walk backwards, hands flying through the air as he explains the new project he's working on. His eyes are bright and bluer than the autumn sky above them, his cheeks are flushed with energy and the slight chill in the air. His lips are red and curved into a nearly perpetual smile. He laughs easily and often when he's like this, he's quick with a compliment for everyone around him and he's so affectionate. He's touching Steve almost constantly, quick little touches – a hand on Steve's shoulder, a brush of his fingers over Steve's wrist, a quick peck on Steve's cheek. He's so beautiful when he's happy. Steve wants to kiss him constantly and indulges himself as often as he thinks is appropriate; outside the donut shop, in the taxi on the way over, outside the gates of the Mansion. He settles for tangling his fingers with Tony's as they walk into the shop.
They're having an impromptu get-together at the Mansion later. Rhodey's in town and he'd declared an Avengers Poker Night. Logan, Carol, Thor and Ben Grimm had already started the party early and Sam and Peter were both coming by after work. Steve and Tony were banned from playing on account of Steve being entirely too convincing a liar and Tony always knowing what hand his opponent was holding (Logan had demanded Tony be checked for the x-factor after a game nearly a year ago, convinced he had to be a latent psychic, but he was just phenomenally good at counting cards even when he wasn't trying to). But Tony liked to attend anyway, offering not-so-helpful advice to his friends and indulging in water-cooler gossip. Tony always brought a couple dozen donuts along as his “buy-in” to keep them from banning him entirely.
“Two dozen, Frank,” Tony says when it's their turn to order. He bounces lightly on the balls of his feet as he studies the racks of pastries on the wall behind the counter. “Gimme one all glazed. And surprise me with the other dozen, but make sure there's at least one Boston Creme in there or Rhodey'll sulk.”
“Sure thing, boss. Big night tonight?” Frank asks as he begins packing donuts into a box. “Or you and the Captain just satisfying your sweet tooth?”
Steve flushes a little, but can't help but grin at the wicked gleam in Tony's eye. “Don't be ridiculous, Frank. Cap's sweet enough all by himself. I could just eat him up.”
“I bet you could,” Steve says lowly, brushing his lips against Tony's ear and delighting in the way he shivered.
Frank doesn't even blink as he stacks the two to-go boxes on the counter. “Seventeen-oh-twelve, boss.”
Tony hands over his credit card and signs the slip while Steve gathers up the boxes. On his copy he writes “IOU – Tony Stark”, and scribbles his cell phone number below his name before he stuffs it in the tip jar. Frank tips his head in a nod, and Tony grins at him as he backs out of the shop, Steve's sleeve caught between his fingers.
It's on the tip of Steve's tongue to ask about it. It's the fifth or sixth time he's noticed Tony's tendency not to tip and it was rubbing him the wrong way. He had wondered, briefly, if Tony just didn't think about it – his lover was weirdly stupid about money sometimes, and didn't always understand how it affected other people day-to-day – but the IOU was a deliberate action. It seemed... a little mean, almost, when he could easily have left a tip on the credit card slip.
He gets as far as opening his mouth to ask what the IOU was for, but then Tony leans over to kiss him, the cardboard boxes caught between their chests. And Tony's lips are warm and soft and Steve can feel him smiling into the kiss and god he loves this man so much.
He shifts the boxes to one arm and catches Tony's hand with the other, pulling him against Steve's side as they begin the walk back to the Mansion. Tony isn't mean, and whatever is going on with the tips, it slides from his mind as Tony began to predict who the night's big winner would be.
And it's not as if it happens every time. There was the thing with the flying squids where afterwards about twelve Avengers end up at an IHOP in Jersey at four in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, their faces and costumes stained with ink, gulping down coffee as fast as the server can refill the carafes. Logan alone ate enough to feed six people, and Steve wasn't much better. Jan ate her breakfast sampler and then half of Peter's before falling asleep on his shoulder. Tony said he wasn't hungry, so Steve ordered extra everything and let Tony eat off his plate. Afterwards they all agree they need ice cream so the server – Imani has two kids and her husband has been out of work for a while. Steve isn't sure how he knows all this, but it's probably because Tony is really very good at weaseling people's life stories out of them, even when he's half asleep himself – brings out a dozen hot fudge sundaes. Tony eats a few bites of Steve's then ends up ordering two hot chocolates and drinks them both.
Steve gets to kiss the whipped cream off his upper lip.
“How are we splitting this?” Imani asks and Tony waves her over before anyone else can say anything. He had been wearing street clothes under the armor, so he had his wallet, and as Jan and Thor usher the Avengers out of the restaurant and toward the Quinjet parked in an empty lot a few blocks away, Tony hands over his shiny black credit card to the cashier. The check is for a few hundred bucks, and Tony leaves a thousand dollar tip before he signs the credit card slip and hands it back.
The cashier blinks. “Um, sir? Is this – did you mean to do this?”
“Tell Imani to buy her kids something nice for Christmas,” Tony says and he winks before heading out the door.
“That was a nice thing to do,” Steve said.
Tony shrugged. “It's literally nothing to me and it could make a big difference to her. Anyway, we're incredibly obnoxious customers, it was the least I could do.”
Steve slid his hand into Tony's and curled their fingers together. “It's not nothing. And you didn't have to take her situation into consideration. A lot of people wouldn't have. It was kind.”
Tony is not good at compliments, but Steve has plans to acclimate him. So far it's met with limited success. “It really wasn't a big deal.”
“It was generous.” Steve leans against Tony's side. “Have I ever told you,” he asked, brushing his mouth against Tony's ear, “that generosity turns me on?”
“Everything turns you on!” Logan hollers from half a block away. “Get the lead out, already!”
“Wait till we get home,” Tony said, his eyes flickering toward Logan. “I'll show you some real generosity, if you catch my drift.”
Then Logan swears, loudly, in the middle of the street at six in the morning and they end up having to apologize profusely to the little old lady whose house he is standing in front of, and the check slips from Steve's mind.
Steve has a taste for seafood one night in early winter. Tony makes a phone call and an hour later they're both dressed in their best and sitting at the Chef's Table in Brooklyn Fare. The chef is an old friend of Tony's who makes smart-ass remarks about all the pretty girls Tony's brought to his restaurant in the past and threatens to tell Steve about the time Tony had too much wine and fell asleep in his date's cleavage. “I've heard worse,” Steve says and Tony laughs into his mineral water. The meal has twenty courses, most of them only large enough for a few bites, but they're perfectly prepared. Steve savors the taste of the meal, the soft sounds of conversation and the warmth of Tony's leg pressed against his beneath the bar. The server keeps their glasses full and doesn't try to press alcohol on either of them, the chef chats with his customers and seems genuinely happy that everyone's enjoying their meal.
Tony presses a kiss against the side of his neck, his goatee tickling Steve's skin. “We haven't had a date night in a while. This was a good idea.”
Steve savors his last mouthful of caviar. “I'm pretty sure it was your idea. I was thinking Red Lobster.”
The chef raises his eyebrow at them. “Stark, if your man can't watch his language, I'm gonna have to ask you both to leave.”
Tony laughs against Steve's shoulder. “Hush. I'm teaching him to appreciate the finer things in life.”
“I already appreciate you,” Steve says softly. “That's as fine as it gets.”
“Steve,” Tony says.
A gasp from across the table interrupts them. On the opposite corner of the counter, a young woman is sitting with her hands pressed against her mouth. She's staring wide-eyed at her dinner companion, a young man in a charcoal suit, who is holding a jewelry box in one hand. “Jenny,” he says in a wavering voice and she laughs.
“Don't be stupid,” she says. She reaches for the box with one shaky hand, then stops herself. “Of course. Of course I'm going to say yes. Oh my god.” She laughs again even as she starts to cry and the man beams as he leans forward to hug her.
The chef calls for a round of champagne and a toast. Tony raises his glass of mineral water with the rest of them, but afterwards, while Jenny and her boyfriend/fiance are celebrating, he leans against Steve's shoulder. Steve slides an arm around his waist and lays his cheek against the top of Tony's head.
“Maybe that will be us someday soon,” Tony says, his lips brushing against the side of Steve's throat.
Steve grips him tighter and has to swallow against the sudden tightness in his throat. He doesn't know exactly what he's going to say, but he wants what Tony is offering, he wants that future for them so much he can taste it. They haven't talked about marriage but Steve's already known that unless Tony walks away, this is it. He'll stay with this man for the rest of his life if Tony lets him. He just hadn't thought Tony was ready to hear that.
He swallows and licks his lips, trying to get some moisture into his painfully dry mouth. “Tony,” he says.
And then the server is back, refilling Steve's glass while discreetly slipping the check to Tony, and the moment passes.
The bill almost makes Steve choke on his drink – almost, because he's getting used to Tony's lifestyle and he's been to restaurants like this with him before – and Tony scrawls in a three-figure tip before he tosses the book back onto the counter. “You ready?” he asks, tipping his head back to look at Steve. He looks a little tired all of a sudden, and some of the brightness that had been in his eyes earlier has dimmed. Steve has the sudden feeling that he's missed something. “I know you're probably still hungry, so I thought we'd stop for dessert on the way home.”
“You know me too well,” Steve says ruefully. The meal may have been 20 courses but some of them weren't more than a single bite, and with his metabolism he usually needs close to 6000 calories on a slow day just to maintain his body weight.
“I feel like ice cream,” Tony says, tugging Steve toward the door. “Come on. I texted Happy, he's gonna take us to that place on Broadway with the giant peanut butter fudge sundaes. If you're good maybe I'll buy a bottle of hot fudge to take home with us.”
“I'll be very good,” Steve says, slipping his hand into Tony's back pocket just to watch his yes go dark. “I'll be so good for you, Tony.”
“Or we could go straight home,” Tony says breathlessly.
“No, I was promised hot fudge.” Steve lifts his hand in a wave as Happy pulls up in the limo. “I want to know what you taste like after I dip you in chocolate.”
Happy takes one look at them and rolls up the privacy window. Steve manages to get Tony pleasantly limp and disheveled by the time they get to Broadway. They invite Happy in with them and order three of the biggest sundaes they can come up with. Steve ends up polishing off most of it and if he deliberately licks the thick creamy marshmallow sauce off his spoon in as suggestive a fashion as possible, it's worth it for the way Tony's breath catches and his eyes go wide.
Tony buys a jar of the shop's specialty fudge and gives Steve a look that promises revenge.
He doesn't tip this time. Steve licks the taste of ice cream and peanut butter out of Tony's mouth as they head out to the car and wonders if Tony's actually doing it to drive him crazy.
It's almost an accident when he finally decides to ask Tony about it. It's less than a week before Christmas, and Tony has been working overtime trying to get a project finished so he and his team can relax over the holidays. Steve finds himself back at the donut place, picking up a half dozen of Tony's favorites, thinking that the sugar rush will help him out. If nothing else, he wants to see the way Tony licks the chocolate icing and powdered sugar off his lips.
Steve's considered that he's becoming a pervert. He's okay with it.
Frank is behind the counter again. He wraps up Steve's order quickly. But when Steve turns to leave, Frank calls him back. “I hate to impose, Captain, but could you give Mr. Stark a message for me?”
“Of course,” Steve says.
“Would you let him know that I got his IOU and I'll give him a call this evening?” Frank glances up as a group of teenagers enter. “If he's busy, don't worry about it. I'll leave my number. I know he's a guy who's got a lot on his plate. And tell him it ain't no emergency or nothing. Thanks, Cap.” He switches to the new customers quickly, taking orders from the kids as they talk over each other.
Steve remembers the scribbled note Tony dropped in the tip jar a month ago and decides it's time to go home and talk to Tony.
Tony is sitting in the middle of their bed.
His bed, technically. Steve still has a room of his own down the hall, for all that he hasn't spent more than three or four nights there in as many weeks.
Steve pauses in the entrance, ignoring the five separate sprigs of mistletoe that someone (probably Jan, possibly Clint) had hung all along the top of the doorway. Tony is barefoot, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed as he studies a tablet intently. He's wearing a bright red sweater with a snowman across the front, which is almost certainly Jan's doing. White fairy lights outline the bedroom windows, and more mistletoe has been attached to the headboard of their bed. Someone has certainly been busy.
Steve sets the box of donuts down on the table beside the door and stuffs his hands in his pockets. He feels stupid for asking, and he's a little worried that Tony's going to be offended, but people work for tips and it's not like Tony can't afford them. He knows it's not maliciousness on Tony's part – absent-mindedness, maybe thoughtlessness. But Tony cares about people too much to be deliberately shorting them for their hard work.
He shuffles his feet a little and Tony looks up from his tablet. Maybe it's the light in the room, but Tony looks... apprehensive. “Steve.”
“Hey. Do you have a minute? I needed to-” Steve shrugs a little. “I just wanted to ask you something.”
“Right.” Tony sets the tablet down very precisely on the bed. “Yeah, I kind of figured you were working your way up to something. You've been chewing on it for a couple weeks now, haven't you?”
Steve laughs a little self-consciously. “Have I been that obvious about it?”
Tony looks down at the bedspread. “A little. I thought about bringing it up, but... Well, I guess I figured I'd let you bring it up when you were ready.” He offers Steve a slightly crooked smile, but looks away from meeting his eyes. “You know me. Always taking the easy way out.”
“That's not true,” Steve objects. “Tony-”
“Anyway, I'm sorry, I guess.” Tony's hands curl into fists against his knees. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know how to fix it. I'd go back and unsay it, if I could.” His voice was tight and as Steve watched his mouth twisted into a shaky smile. “I always have to mess up a good thing, don't I?”
“Hey, wait.” Steve took a couple quick steps into the room until he was standing next to the bed. “Nothing's messed up, okay?”
Tony hunches his shoulders a little. “I always go too fast. I know I made you uncomfortable that night at the restaurant and – it's okay, it really is. I get it. I just wanted-” He bites his bottom lip so hard that Steve's afraid he's going to draw blood. “I'm not great at reading people, I know.”
“Apparently not, because I have no idea what we're talking about.” Steve sits down at the edge of the bed and carefully reaches across the distance between them to wrap his fingers around one of Tony's wrist. “Tony, what-” A flash of memory hits him and he takes a deep breath. “Is this about that couple we saw getting engaged?”
“I made you uncomfortable.” Tony stares down at Steve's hand holding his, but doesn't pull away. “I moved too fast and you got all quiet.”
“No.” Steve squeezes Tony's wrist. “I was very happy to hear you say that. But I was surprised and – well, a little speechless,” he admits with a self-deprecating smile. “By the time I got my voice back you were ready to leave. And I just didn't know how to bring it up again. You didn't make me uncomfortable or rush me into anything, I promise.”
“But-” Tony twists his hand in Steve's grip. Steve holds on, but not so tight that Tony couldn't pull away if he really wanted to. Tony stills, then carefully places his free hand over their joined ones. “So, if I said that I wanted to talk about... that night? And-”
“I love you,” Steve says easily. “I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I don't need to get married or have a wedding if that's not what you want. But if you want to get rid of me, you're going to have a fight on your hands.”
Tony strokes his thumb over the back of Steve's hand. “Who in their right mind would ever want to get rid of you?”
“Flatterer.” Steve slides across the bed until there's only a few inches separating them. “I mean it. I'm not leaving you. Not for anything. And later we can talk about-” he licks his lips a little. “We can talk about our future. About – about weddings and-”
“I want us to move in together,” Tony says abruptly. He looks up at Steve, his shoulders straight and his chin up. He looks so brave and so determined. Steve wants to kiss him senseless. “It's only been six months, but I want to wake up with you every single chance I get.”
“Good,” Steve says. “Because you're stuck with me.” He wraps his arms around Tony's shoulders and tugs his boyfriend across the bed until Tony is half-lying across his lap, his face pressed to Steve's chest. “You are going to be stuck with me for a very, very long time.” He presses a fierce kiss against Tony's temple. “Get used to it.”
Tony laughs, a short puff of breath, followed by a shaky exhale. “Okay. Okay. This is not the conversation I planned on having with you today, but... I'm glad.”
“So – wait. If you weren't trying to tell me to back off, what's been eating at you for the past couple of weeks?”
“Oh.” Steve can feel his cheeks heating up as he remembers his original reason for wanting to talk. “So something's been niggling at me a little and I wanted to ask you about it.”
Tony pushes against Steve's chest until he's sitting upright, one of Steve's arms still curled around his hips. “What is it?”
“You don't tip,” Steve blurts out. “Sometimes you do – but then sometime you don't and I can't figure out why. I thought maybe you were just forgetting, but there's no pattern or – or –” he can feel himself flushing under Tony's wide-eyed stare. “It was bothering me, is all. People live off their tips. And then today Frank at the donut shop said he was cashing in his IOU-”
“You went to the donut shop?” Tony looked around and saw the box by the door. “Steve, you are my favorite.” He climbs off the bed and makes a beeline for the box, leaving Steve sitting on the bed with one arm outstretched and feeling slightly bemused.
“So I take it you aren't offended?” Steve asks dryly.
Tony has taken a huge bite out of a chocolate frosted donut and rainbow sprinkles tumble down the front of his sweater. “Mmmmm,” he says. “Baby, I love you so much.”
Steve honestly doesn't know if that was meant for him or the donut. “So the IOU?”
Tony licks his lips and swallows. “I leave IOUs as tips. Well, for Frank. He cashes one in every few months when he wants a favor. Like back in August his daughter wanted to meet One Direction for her birthday and I got them backstage passes. Before that... I think the last one he cashed in was back in March, when his car broke down and he couldn't afford to get it fixed.”
“So you fixed it for him?”
“I bought him a new one.” Tony pads back toward the bed, nibbling at his donut, the box cradled against his chest like a child. “It was easier in the long run.”
“So the IOUs aren't for tips, they are tips.”
“Yeah. Basically. I could cram a couple bucks in the tip jar every time we go in – and sometimes I do, but Frank's been making me donuts for almost ten years. A few years ago he mentioned that he and his kids had to moved because they were getting foreclosed on and I gave him an IOU just like the one you saw me leave. Told him to call me if he needed anything at all.” Tony climbs back up on the bed. “And he called me a couple weeks later, said the bank agreed not to foreclose if he could just get up to date and asked me if I'd consider cashing in that IOU for a loan. I thought he was going to have a heart attack when I said yes, but there you go. It's been a tradition ever since.”
That sounded exactly like something Tony would do. “Did you give IOUs to the girl at the Mexican restaurant last month? Or the waitress at the malt shoppe?”
Tony blinked. “This has been bothering you for that long?”
“Not – really?” Steve shrugged. “I know you. You're generous to a fault. It seemed strange that you'd stiff someone who works for less than minimum wage. At first I thought maybe you just forgot. But then you'd remember sometimes. Like the time at IHOP.”
Tony chuckled. “The server at the malt shoppe was Raina. I don't know if you remember, but she mentioned that she was working to pay for art classes because her parents cut her off after she changed her major from accounting. I paid her tuition for the rest of the year. And the woman at the Mexican place – Lily. You probably don't remember because you were too busy pretending not to be all caveman jealous over her flirting with me, but she was saving up to buy her kid his first bike. So I had one of my PAs go out and get the best bike they could find and had it delivered to her house.”
“And Mikey? Cheese steak guy?”
Tony snickered. “Cheese steak guy. Do you know how much a food vendor license costs in New York? Especially one in that part of town? Mikey was going to have to relocate after they hiked the costs a couple years ago. I couldn't allow that, Steve. I would die without my weakly dose of melted cheese.”
“Do I want to know how much that license costs?” Steve asks faintly.
Tony gives him a wary look. “About a hundred and fifty thousand.”
“Man, you should see what the ones in Central Park cost.” Tony takes another bite out of his donut, sprinkling chocolate flakes onto the comforter. Steve makes a mental note to make him change the sheets before they go to bed. “Mikey won't take my money. I tip the girls who work for him sometimes, but only if he isn't watching. Otherwise he just yells at me. He gave them a raise since I'm paying his licensing. Says he owes me more cheese steak than I could ever possibly eat.”
“The sundae shop?” Steve asks. “The one we went to with Happy after that night at the restaurant?”
“The girl who made our sundaes had a lot of student loans to pay off,” Tony says. “I fixed that.”
“That is -” Steve shakes his head. “Tony, that is incredibly generous.”
“I don't do it every time.” Tony looks uncomfortable, like he thought Steve was scolding him. “Just – sometimes you hit it off with the server, you know? Or the cabby, or the doorman. And you get to know them and you want to help. The people I tipped – most of them have waited on us before. They all needed a little help. And I mean... look, a fancy bike is the same to me as a ten-dollar tip would be to most other people, right? The car I bought Frank was just a minivan, you know? It had good reliability ratings and it was easy to get parts for. It was a lot of money to him, but I could literally buy that car every day for the next year and not miss the money at all. Sometimes I tip twenty percent. But sometimes I get the chance to help someone and – I figure why not.”
“Do they know it's you?” Steve asks.
“Yeah. Mostly. I did it anonymously a few times, but it turns out that freaks people out a little. Some of them thought it must be a mistake and kept trying to get someone to take the money back before they got in trouble. Some of the others thought someone was going to come out of the woodwork asking for favors or their firstborn.” Tony polishes off the donut and licks frosting off his fingers. “So I made sure they all got an email or a phone call before the money hits their accounts so they know it's just a tip. I always ask them not to tell anyone. So far they've all been pretty good about it – some of their coworkers know, and one time this lady's husband kissed me on the mouth after I paid off a chunk of their hospital bills, but no one's gone to the press yet.” He shifted on the bed. “Are you mad?”
“Mad?” Steve echos. “What would I possibly be mad about?”
“I don't know. Spending so much money on people I don't know? Obie used to say it was frivolous.”
“You're well aware of my opinion of anything Obadiah Stane had to say,” Steve says. He cups the side of Tony's face in one hand. “You are one of the most generous men I have ever known. You always want to help the people around you. You give whenever you can. And I love that about you.”
“I'm still disgustingly rich,” Tony says. “I could give more.”
“You don't have to give anything. And so many people don't. Tony – some of these people you've told me about – do you realize you've probably changed their lives?”
“I just... It's so easy for me. I literally don't even miss the money. It's not anything special.”
Steve shakes his head. “One day, if it is the last thing I do on this earth, I will make you believe you're a good person.” He leans forward to kiss Tony's mouth, tasting the sugar still on his lips. “I love you.”
Tony curled his fingers around Steve's ankle. “I love you, too.” He grins suddenly, a quick little quirk of his lips. “Even if you did think I was a cheap bastard who didn't tip my waitress.”
Steve laughs. “I never did. I knew you'd have a reason for it. And you didn't disappoint me.”
“Did you mean it?” Tony asks. He gestures vaguely with one hand. “Before.”
“About wanting to move in with you? Absolutely.” Steve smiles at him. “And the rest of it, too, but there's plenty of time to talk about that.”
“The rest of our lives?” Tony asks. He still sounds a little hesitant, but there's time to work on that. Steve is willing to put the effort in to make sure Tony knows exactly how much Steve wants him.
“At least that long,” he says. “Hey, Tony?”
“Can I have a donut?”
“What are we, married? These are mine.” Tony clutches the box to his chest. “Get your own.”
Steve grins. “Well then. I guess I'll have to settle for this.”
He leans forward and takes Tony's mouth in a slow, deep kiss. He doesn't stop until he's licked every last bit of sweetness out of Tony's mouth.
And then he keeps going.