Chapter 1: BLC1100: Bad Life Choices
"Dad—Dad, stop it. That's not funny."
In the dim light that filtered into Tony's blanket-cave, the phone was a bright, painful glow that only made his hangover worse. He hadn't even had time to take a shot or two to dull it before the call had come in and everything had gone from bad to horrific.
"Good, because it's not a joke." Howard Stark stared up from the three-by-three screen, mustache twitching every now and then. Fascinating and disgusting, it was hypnotic. Like a cat and its tail, the mustache was an indicator of his dad's mood. Twitching was a bad sign. "Do you know how much money you wasted last week?"
Tony curled up under his comforter and tried to think back. It was all something of a blur of pretty girls, pretty boys and very pretty drinks. He'd been in an excellent mood—not unusual about three drinks in, really, but this time it had been special. The holidays were over and he was back at school for his last semester, no parents to nag him or Jarvis to give him disappointed looks. There'd been lots of reasons to party.
Memories lined up in rows, handing him fuzzier and fuzzier pictures. Then somewhere in the crush of people, he remembered a voice yelling give it up for our golden boy, and after that someone busted out a beer bong. That had pretty much been the end of conscious thought for a while. "A lot?" he offered tentatively, preemptively wincing.
"Twenty thousand dollars."
Tony stared down at the screen in shock. "Twenty thousand?" He hadn't bought that many rounds, had he? And the bar hadn't been that full. Thirty or forty of his closest friends, maybe, but that much?
"Twenty thousand." Howard took relish in the word, as if it the more he said it, the worse Tony would feel. Which, really, was fair enough. "I called the bars. You bought them out."
"Bars?" Plural? It couldn't have been plural. They'd only gone down to Mickey's. He'd woken up at Mickey's.
"Yes, bars, and God knows how you got in at all." The mustache gave a mighty heave. "This has to stop, son, and if you won't do it then I will."
"But cutting me off?" Whining wasn't mature, but what the hell, he was seventeen, not seventy. "Come on, what do you expect me to do, starve?" Tony made his best pathetic face at the phone, the one that usually got him some leeway. Back when he was seven Tony had figured out that his parents felt bad that Stark Industries kept them busy and had learned to milk it for all it was worth. Mom would have been easier to manipulate, she always was, but Dad wasn't completely unmovable.
Distressingly, this time Howard was a stone. "Your cards have been canceled," the mustache said implacably. "I've made arrangements to have food delivered to your dorm. You'll get weekly deliveries. Rent and electricity will be taken care of. Call and we'll buy any school supplies you need."
"But—but—but what if I want to go to dinner or—or a movie!" Last ditch effort, and it wasn't his best, but desperation knew no bounds. "You can't just expect me to mooch off my friends!"
"Why not? They do it to you." Howard glanced down at his watch. "Sorry, son, but this is just the way it's going to be. Now, I have a meeting in ten minutes, so if you have any final words, say them now."
Sagging back to his pillows, Tony let out an inarticulate grunt. His whole world was crashing down around his ears.
"I love you too," Howard said dryly, apparently not even having heard Tony's anguish. "Don't whine to your mother about this, just accept it. I'll call you next week." The screen flickered and faded back to its standard Stark Industries logo.
Throwing it was tempting, but with his dad in a mood, Tony had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't get a new one in the mail. Which was completely stupid because he only ever got prototypes anyway. It wasn't like they had to buy anything.
Maybe he should throw it. Then he could tell the people down in R&D that he was stress-testing.
But no, his mom ran R&D with an iron fist and didn't bother with the velvet glove. She'd know if Tony started going over her head for replacements and then heads would roll.
Twisting around under the blankets more until they knotted around him in a cozy little twist, Tony flicked open his contacts and paged through to the Ms—Mom.
Maria answered without picking up her phone, giving him a useless picture of the ceiling and a bit of what might have been shoulder. "No."
"But Mom." From hopeful to whining in under a second. His track record wasn't looking good. "Dad's not being fair. I'm sure those tabs were falsified."
"This wasn't your father's idea; it was mine." The phone jostled, and he got a picture of the underside of his mother's chin, her face lit by a computer screen. "He wanted to get you a nanny. Be glad I talked him out of it."
"A nanny?" Tony's stomach dropped and then rose again as his hangover reasserted itself. "You wouldn't."
"And I thought you wouldn't run up a twenty thousand dollar bar tab. Guess we were both wrong, huh?" Maria glanced down at the phone. Dark hair had fallen out of her uptwist and was caught on her glasses. Tony had always thought his mother was beautiful—like a girl version of himself, actually—but the serious stare did a lot to take that away. "This is our fault. Maybe we shouldn't have let you go to school so young. You weren't ready for it."
Guilt. He hated the guilt. "Don't do this." Putting the phone on the bed, Tony folded his hands in his best imitation of piety. "Please? I won't let it happen again."
"That's what you said last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. And now it's twenty thousand dollars worth of wrong." She finally picked up the phone, holding it at eye level. "Honey, I love you, but this is for the best. It won't be so hard, I promise."
Lies and falsehoods. "You expect me to live like a monk for the next three months? No dinners out, no movies, no anything?"
Maria smiled, just the left corner of her mouth turning up. "If you really want fun money, then get a job. You're old enough, and the responsibility would be good for you."
"A job? Work?"
Cruel, sadistic woman that she was, his mother laughed. "Don't make it sound like selling a kidney, honey. It's just work. You might even like it."
It was official. His parents were monsters, willing to throw their child to the wolves at the slightest provocation. "I don't think so."
"It's your only option." Maria smacked a kiss against the camera. "And now I have to get back to my job. I'll call later to make sure you haven't starved to death, shall I?"
"Yeah, thanks," Tony grumbled. "Love you."
"I love you, too. Have a good day at school." For the second time, the screen flicked back to the logo, leaving Tony with only the taste of regret and old beer. But mostly old beer.
Road work: too hard.
Waiting tables: bad pay.
Data entry: boring.
One by one, Tony went through the local want ads. There were a lot of them, but he cobbled together a quick program to prioritize. Ones that needed weekends or evenings, were entry level, or had a uniform were discarded right from the start. That didn't leave much, and most of what was there just wasn't happening.
"Tony, this is ridiculous." Rhodey, ever the voice of reason and therefore ever ignored, peered over his shoulder. Compared to Tony's pajama pants and socks, Rhodey was the picture of college perfection in a crisp polo and khakis. He even ironed his underwear—Tony had watched him do it. "It's not like you need money. Do you know how many guys would kill to have all expenses paid?"
"Hush, Rhodey, can't you see I'm job hunting?" No, hours too long. No, pay too small. No, required an apron.
"You—wait, go back." One of Rhodey's fingers jabbed at the screen. "What's wrong with that one?"
Confused, Tony scanned back over the ad in question, then reeled back. "I'm not working as a delivery boy, Rhodey. I've seen horror movies. The slut's always the first to die."
"What are you even—you know what, never mind." Reaching over, Rhodey pushed the laptop screen closed. "Why don't you go take a job for the art department? I hear they're looking for models. Right up your alley."
"Models?" Tony perked up. Sitting around naked for cash in front of a lot of hot art students? "I can do that!"
"Yeah, I thought so." Rhodey ruffled his hair. "I've got poli sci in ten minutes, so I'll catch you later, alright? Don't let me come back and find out you did something stupid, like selling yourself for sex, okay?"
Kicking up his feet on the desk, Tony gave Rhodey—roommate and provider of the best ideas—a wide grin. "Yeah, yeah, I'll be good, Mom. I promise."
Clearly sensing that Tony was up to something, but also staring down the barrel of a class, Rhodey gave Tony the hairy eyeball before grabbing up his bag and running out the door. Tony took the time to wave at his back, but most of his attention was on the plan slowly coming together in his head. It was absolutely perfect.
Hot art students.
Publicly acceptable nudity.
And best yet, he'd be getting paid for all of it.
Suddenly, Tony's future weekends were looking up.
Steve set up his easel with shaky hands, carefully peeling the protective covering off of the charcoal piece and clamping it down. Having life models always made him nervous, even though this was far from his first class that used them. There was just something embarrassing about staring at someone without their clothes on. This one was worse, though, because it was Tony.
It was the third time Tony had modeled for them, and the last according to the schedule. Which might have been for the best, because Steve couldn't think around him. In the normal course of things he'd get into the flow and be okay, the naked body just another set of shapes and lines and interesting shadows, but Tony made it impossible. He was just so gorgeous, all lean lines and interesting places, better suited to ink than charcoal. Steve caught himself sketching the angle of Tony's hips on a napkin or the shadow between his shoulder blades in the margins of his notes, but when the man was actually there, in the flesh, nothing. Unless he could get some real work done on it, Professor Aching was going to have words with him.
Good thing he'd skipped breakfast, because his stomach was twirling through loops-de-loops. Throwing up all over his work would probably get him a chance to try it again, but Steve hated the thought of ruining so many hours of work, even if it was terrible.
To calm his stomach, he concentrated on laying out his charcoals and smudge sticks, arranging them how he'd use them, and then again by size, and then back again. The can of fixative he'd use when it was done switched places three times, even though he probably wasn't going to need it anyway. The colorwheel he put up on the easel, black and white be damned.
Reasons why it was stupid to feel so nervous played through his head, a practiced litany. It was just a class, and Tony did it at least once a week. No reason he should even notice the scrawny blond guy in the back, not when Julia McNivens was up at the front with her big doe eyes and big—other things.
A guy like Tony was probably straight anyway.
He got so good at not paying attention that when he looked up and Tony was suddenly there and shrugging out of his robe, Steve nearly broke his charcoal stick. It had to be his imagination that Tony winked at him. Probably he was just winking in that general direction. Just Tony being Tony—he didn't have to say a word for his personality to come out, it was written in the line of his neck and the slow smile. That was one of the reasons the art profs loved him so much, Steve bet. Life models with that much life didn't really grow on trees.
Somehow, Steve got through the session, though when he looked at the work under his hands it didn't look anything like what he wanted. Lines. It was just lines and shapes, a person-figure that could have been anyone at all. Later, he'd have to go in and add detail before he had to turn it in. Maybe if he worked without Tony to distract him, he'd get something that wasn't horrible. The sketches he did when he was supposed to be doing something else weren't too bad. The piece wasn't due until Monday, and he could probably stretch that to Wednesday with some effort.
The robe went back on, and Steve could breathe a little again. Not much, but he didn't break anything as he put away his supplies, which was well done. It was just a lucky thing that charcoal didn't need to be in perfect condition to use, or he'd have had to scrounge up money for replacements. All around him, people grabbed up their things and left, some at a saunter, some running, but everyone streamed out of the room. Steve took his time, letting them go. He didn't have anywhere he had to be, and it would give him a chance to get his feet under him.
"Hey." Robed arms folded over the top of Steve's easel, and Tony was there again, like he'd appeared out of the ether. He grinned down, blue eyes bright and dancing and God, Steve wished he could use color on this piece. They flicked down to the rainbow wristband Steve wore as a habit, then back up to his face. If anything, Tony's grin got wider. "So, I noticed you looking at me."
There. Tony was there. Talking to him. To Steve. Talking to Steve while he was still wearing that bathrobe and everything that wasn't under it, even that tattoo on his hip that Steve had never gotten close enough to make out but still wanted to run his tongue over.
It's an art class, Steve tried to say. We're supposed to look at you. What ended up coming out was closer to wark, and also a lot like an oncoming asthma attack.
Tony's nose wrinkled up in a laugh, and it made him look impossibly young for a college student. "Do you squawk like that to all the boys?"
"No, I—" Shaking his head, Steve put down the supplies he'd been putting away before he dropped them. "I don't talk to many boys—many people." Well, there were Wanda and Carol. And Sam. And Bucky. But they were more like family than anything else, people he shared a flat with for cheap who didn't mind taking care of him when he got sick or posing when his fingers got the itch. They definitely didn't make Steve's knees turn to jello and his chest seize up.
"People don't have any taste these days." Tilting his head, Tony rested his cheek against his arm, lashes low and flirty, and it had to be deliberately casual because there was no way the easel would actually support someone leaning on it. "If you've got the time and the money, I could have some taste."
Steve's brain froze up. He couldn't even make chicken noises.
"Breathe!" A strong arm swatted his back, and Steve took a great, gasping breath of air. Tony went from smacking to rubbing his back, firm circles that did absolutely nothing to make breathing easier. "Wow, if I'd known you'd react like that, I'd have had an inhaler ready," he joked, but his eyes were a little wild around the edges.
Inhaler. That was a good idea that Steve immediately dismissed. Bad enough being completely useless in front of Tony; he didn't want to be any more of an art nerd stereotype. Even if he did think he might be about to have an attack. "Did you really just...?"
"If I say yes, will you choke again?"
Shaking his head, Steve forced himself to relax. Nerves weren't the same as an attack, but they were damned close, and if he started to have a real one he wasn't going to have a choice about that inhaler. The door clicked shut as the last person left, and Steve really, really hoped Tony didn't know CPR because that would probably kill him faster than an asthma attack. "I think I'm good now. You just—startled me. You don't look like the kind of guy who would... you know. For money."
One of Tony's shoulders moved in a shrug that made his robe slip a little. "Well, you know. Guy's got to make money somehow, and senior year doesn't leave much time to make it. Between you and me, it's not really what I expected, but it pays the bills. You interested? Don't make me chase down the prof."
"I don't know..." He'd gotten his paycheck that morning, cash in hand, and he could feel the numbers turning over in his head. Rent was already paid for the month, and Sam had him covered for the electricity since Steve had covered for him a while back. Water bill was due, but split five ways it wasn't that much. But what was left he'd need for food.
"You can't spare fifty dollars?" Tony batted his eyelashes, like some starlet from the forties. "Come on, I bet you could if you really wanted to."
And there went air again. Only fifty? Almost popped out of his mouth, but this time Steve bit his tongue first. He didn't want to imply that Tony was cheap—though really, that did seem cheap, and Tony was selling sex so he pretty literally was cheap and—but fifty. He could spare fifty. Cut back on groceries, a little more ramen and cereal.... "Um—I think—I could do that..."
Tony grinned like the world had just exploded into flowers and kittens and Steve was pretty sure he was going to have a melt down before Tony even touched skin. "You've got a place we can go?"
"Not on campus—no wait—" The studio was empty. No students, no teacher, nothing. "Here? I stay late sometimes to work and lock up after. No one comes in here."
If he'd thought the nerves from before class had been bad, it was nothing to the new ones. He couldn't believe it was actually happening, that he was doing this. Paying for sex wasn't anything he'd ever considered, but it was Tony, and deep down, Steve couldn't believe he'd ever get a chance at someone that hot twice.
"Art student in an art studio. Nice." Tony swung a leg over the pommel horse. Hooking his knees over Steve's thighs, he settled in close. White terry cloth slipped off his shoulders, puddling down behind him, leaving absolutely nothing hidden. Which was alright, because Steve had seen it already, and it didn't really excuse how warm Steve suddenly was. "So, what'll it be?"
"I don't know—I've never..." Steve felt himself flush up to his hairline. "Not like this, I mean. Not with money—oh God." Dropping his head to Tony's shoulder came naturally, and once he was there it was too late not to.
Bastard, Tony laughed, arms wrapping around Steve's shoulders as he pressed a kiss to his ear. "Relax. It's only weird if you let it be."
"I don't think I have much choice." Steve glanced down; he could see the tattoo centered over the sharp edge of Tony's hipbone, a stylized slash of jagged lines, and some sort of circle that looked almost like it came from the astrology pages in the newspaper. Swallowing back his nerves, he pressed his thumb to it, watching the skin go pale. He wondered what it meant.
Another kiss, and then a slow nuzzle to his neck. "How about a blowjob?" Tony whispered against his jaw, lips sliding against skin in a hot line. His hand pressed against the front of Steve's jeans, squeezing his half-hard cock. "And if you like that, maybe you can hit me up for more later."
"I—okay, yeah." Just then, Steve would have agreed to almost anything. He'd never had a blowjob, but guys talked about them and the sounded good. Certainly picturing his dick between Tony's lips was enough to make his breath short. "Yeah, that sounds—good."
Tony chuckled. Clever fingers made quick work of Steve's fly, button popping open and zip lowering in under a minute. His hands were warm where they wrapped around Steve's cock, the calluses little sharp points of friction on otherwise smooth skin. "You're cute."
Steve choked on something witty, watching Tony's hand work him, tan skin against northern pale, smooth gold and the darkening head. It was an amazing study of contrasts, and for a second his thoughts almost derailed into this would be a good color piece before his body shut it down. He let Tony push him back to the edge of the pommel until his shoulders pressed against the wall, let Tony lean forward and press a kiss to shaft, tongue flicking over the big vein.
Then his lips sealed around Steve's cock and took it down until Steve bumped the back of his throat, hand wrapped around what wouldn't fit. Up and down, with a hard suck before Tony pulled off Steve's dick with a wet pop. His hand kept working the shaft, thumb occasionally brushing over the head, but not with nearly as much attention that his mouth had given it. "Good?" Tony asked, bowing his head to drag his tongue over the head of Steve's cock, then down around it like it was a lollipop. "Wouldn't want you to think you're being cheated."
Words were not on Steve's side, so he nodded and croaked out, "Yeah. It's good."
"Oh, good." The lips came back, harder, firmer. Steve melted, praying that the wall would hold him up.
It was practiced and perfect, with those impossibly blue eyes watching Steve's face as Tony's mouth worked him up and down. Tony's shoulders arched, muscles tight as if he'd physically drag Steve to orgasm if he had to, and it really, really shouldn't have been hot as it was. All Steve could really do was thread his fingers through dark hair and try to muffle his groans with a fist.
He came embarrassingly fast, biting down on his knuckles as he spilled on Tony's tongue. And Tony lapped it up, sucking hard, hand working to milk the last shudder from Steve.
By the time Steve's dick slipped out of Tony's mouth, he was boneless, too relaxed to even be nervous. Thoughts chased themselves lazily around his head, from someone had had his cock in their mouth and ending in oh my God that was amazing. Kindly, Tony put Steve's cock back in his pants and patted his thigh, waiting for his brain to unscramble.
"Worth a fifty?" he asked, after Steve's eyes uncrossed. His cock jutted up against his stomach, hard and slightly curved, less red than Steve's got, and he looked happy—that was weirdly comforting. If Tony enjoyed it, maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe Steve wasn't completely disgusting or just another fifty in the bank.
"Mm—yeah—wait, the money." The reminder kicked Steve into motion. Reaching down, he used the few muscles he could get working to haul his bag over. In one of the pockets, tucked deep back where it wasn't easy to get, the wad of money that was Steve's paycheck sat waiting. He didn't even mind counting off bills, though he knew he'd be wincing at the loss later. It was a week of food if he stretched it right, gone in thirty minutes and one orgasm.
Worth it, Steve thought, handing them over.
Tony accepted it with good grace, tucking it down into his robe without counting. Scooting forward, he propped his elbows up on Steve's thighs, looking up at him with a smile. His feet swung back and forth, bare toes dragging over polished concrete with little sweeping noises. "You know, you really are cute. And I'm not just saying that because you paid me to."
Much as he didn't believe that, Steve flushed anyway. "Thanks."
"No, really. Here." Reaching down into Steve's tote, Tony rummaged for a second before pulling out a stick of charcoal. Black smudged his fingers as he held it up to eye level. "Will this work? Never mind, it'll have to." Without warning, he grabbed Steve's arm and wrote on it in large, blocky print. Seven numbers. "Call me next time you've got some cash to spare, huh? I wouldn't mind making this a regular thing."
"I..." Carefully Steve held out his arm, doing his best not to smudge it. "I'll think about it." He wouldn't. It was insane to even have done it once.
With a wink, Tony slipped his robe back on, tying it tight around his waist. "You do that." And then he was gone, out the door at a trot, leaving Steve with an ache that only had a little to do with his dick.
Tony fumbled at the lock at dark o'clock in the morning, sore, exhausted and sticky in the worst places. He'd always been careful to insist on a condom no matter who his client happened to be, but there were some things that couldn't be helped.
Like chocolate sauce. He was going to be scrubbing that out from between his toes for a week.
No one had told him prostitution was going to be so much work. His back ached, actually ached, and he'd gotten bruises on his knees once. Everyone, everyone pulled on his hair, whether he was going down on them or just letting them fingerpaint with chocolate. It wasn't the hot young art students he'd expected, either. For some reason, they all thought they could find sex for free instead of paying him. No, most of his customers were older, with—God help him—wrinkles and lumps in strange places and kinks that he had to look up on the internet afterward. Being too picky didn't get him any money, but not picky enough could get downright unfortunate.
Julia Roberts had lied to him. Tony felt distinctly cheated.
When he finally got the door open, Tony dragged himself into the dark dorm and straight to the sofa, throwing himself down with the desperation of a drowning man.
"OOF!" The sofa yelled in Rhodey's voice, squishing up unpleasantly. It squirmed, pushing and prodding. "God damn—Tony, get off of me, man!"
Rather than give in to the sofa's callous whims, Tony clung harder. "No," he growled, digging his fingers into the cushions. "You can't make me. I claim this couch in the name of hookers everywhere. Viva la revolution!"
"That is so offensive, you have no idea."
Elbows and knees and one headbutt finally forced Tony off to the side, where he sank into the cushy space between the back and the seat. His knee was trapped, but as long as teeth didn't close on it, he was too tired to care. In the morning, he'd probably be stuck and even more sore, but Tony hadn't gotten anywhere by caring how things would work out in the morning.
Rhodey—who had been the sofa all along, the sneaky jerk—sat up and flipped on the table lamp. "... Do I want to know why you have chocolate in your hair?"
"Mr. Benedict. It's sugar-free?" Faint silver lining—that just meant Tony was being slowly poisoned with Nutra-Sweet. He should probably start charging extra for anything not organic.
He was in his boxers and a white t-shirt, which Tony took a second to scowl at. One chance to see a hot guy all day, and Rhodey had to ruin it by being Rhodey. Not that he would have done anything about it, even if Rhodey had stripped down naked and begged for a chance. Tony didn't want to see another set of genitalia for at least twelve hours. Maybe thirteen; it had been a rough night.
"... Yeah, I don't want to know." Sitting up on the edge of the couch, Rhodey reached for his phone, flicking the power button. Which was funny because Rhodey's phone looked a lot like Tony's, all red and shiny with the gold flecks he'd badgered R&D into putting in. "Do you realize it's past three? I was worried sick. If you hadn't come back by dawn, I was going to call the cops."
"It was just Mr. Benedict—he's harmless. Weird, but harmless." Way too fond of food, though.
Rhodey's face set in those very Rhodey lines, the ones that said you're being an idiot, but I'm too tired to argue, and really, dude, go take a shower, you've got chocolate everywhere and I'm not scrubbing another piece of furniture for your lazy ass. It was an expression Tony saw more often that most people might expect. "You left your phone," Rhodey finally said, clicking the phone off and dropping it to the couch. "It rang a bunch of times."
Oh. That explained why Rhodey's phone looked familiar. Reaching over, Tony picked it up and started thumbing through the log. Alicia—no, smelled like cats, Tony wasn't doing that again. Mr. "Snuggles", who thought choking Tony with his dick was the hottest thing since jalapenos, but at least he got it over with fast... "Did you answer?"
"Once. Never again."
"The answer is 'red lace panties', 'yes' and 'fifty dollars'," Tony reminded him absently. "It's on the fridge. Hello, who are you?" Tony eyed the new number. Local, at least, which was a good sign. Dragging open a map, he traced it to one of the cheap, pay as you go cell phone companies. "Huh. Well, can't hurt." With a quick flick of his thumb, Tony pressed dial.
"Are you calling someone? At this hour?" Rhodey crossed his arms. "You're not going out there—"
Flapping his hand like a mouth, Tony waved Rhodey off. "Nag, nag, nag, of course I'm not, I just want to—"
The phone clicked over, and a sleepy voice with a thick Brooklyn accent murmured, "This's Steve, whaddya want?"
"Steve!" Popping free from the jaws of sofa-based death, Tony sat up, exhaustion temporarily forgotten. The name wasn't familiar, but Tony recognized the voice. His memory called up a picture of the cute art student, with his clipped blond hair and too-big ears and weirdly adorable scrawny arms and dick that was at least three sizes too big for him, to go with the hands and ears. Steve. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. This is Tony."
"Tony!" From the sound of Steve's voice, he'd just woken up with a jolt. "I—you said to call you if I—you know, money, and I have some, I got a double shift last week and some overtime, if you're still, you know..."
"For rent?" Settling back into the sofa, Tony let his voice take on that rolling purr that people seemed to like. It got their blood pumping, at least, which got their minds off questions like his age, the price, and whether he'd really call them back. "Yeah, I'm still available. Especially if you're the one who's booking."
Rolling his eyes expressively, Rhodey stuck his fingers in his ears and took off for his room, muttering something about bleaching his ear drums.
The breathing on the other end picked up, just a little, and really, it shouldn't have been sexy to be able to hear some scrawny art student get hard. "You say that to everyone, don't you?"
Tony could picture him, snuggled under a pile of blankets thicker than his mattress, blue eyes foggy with lust. Not the hottest person he'd slept with, but better than the rest of the ones who were willing to pay for it. Maybe he was hard, rubbing himself through his pristine little tighty whities. "No, not everyone," Tony admitted, actually honestly. "Just you."
Steve swallowed, the sound too loud over his cheap, scratchy phone. "So when do you—I mean, when can we meet?"
The edge of the couch was digging into his hip, Tony rolled over, pulling himself all the way free from the blue cushions of doom and settling on his side. "How much time do we need?"
"What do you want to do?" Telling silence, and a slow smile crept over Tony's face. He glanced over at Rhodey's door, but it was shut tight, with a towel shoved under the crack. Safe. "Or don't you know?"
"I—thought I'd—like last time."
"Come on, you're going to have me all to yourself, to do whatever you want, and you'll settle for a quick blow? It's your money, but don't you have any other ideas?"
"I—didn't—" He could hear Steve getting more flustered, his breathing getting harder, and yeah, that was the sound of creaky old bedsprings in the background. "I didn't really think about it."
Probably blushing like a schoolboy watching his first porno, Tony thought fondly. Too cute for his own good. "How about you bend me over Prof Aching's desk?" he suggested in a low whisper. "Spread me out and just fuck me open with that big dick of yours?"
And really, that wasn't a bad idea. Tony wasn't a size queen, but just thinking about Steve's dick made his own take interest, and that was with Mr. Benedict's chocolate sauce all over him. He could stretch himself good before-hand, make sure he could take it.
A groan, and yeah, Tony was already earning his fifty bucks. "I've never topped—not with a guy," Steve confessed, voice lower and a little husky. "My old girlfriend—Peggy—she had a strap-on she liked, so we did that sometimes, and I'd only—you know—with her."
Hot. Steve bent over, maybe hands and knees, while a chick pounded into him from behind. One hand holding the phone, Tony let his other wander down to rub himself through his jeans. "Did you like it?" Tony had to ask, squeezing his balls. "Get you off, having a girl do you?"
"Yeah, I liked it. It was—she was good. Real good. Miss her." Slick sounds, like Steve had found some lube, dirty and fast and Jesus, Tony was damn near willing to do him for free if he could just see what was happening. Why the hell hadn't his father marketed the vidphone feature for prepaids? Or was it even to market yet? "But I want to do you. I want to—to try it out."
"You sure? I'm good too." The button on Tony's jeans wouldn't pop quietly, so he threw it open and ripped down the zip, listening for the pause that meant Steve recognized the noises. "I could bend you over, think of that? Pin you down on your face and let you have it."
A shuddery breath and a needy little noise that made Tony's throat clench. "Next time?" Steve asked, sweet and innocent and just begging to be debauched. "I really want to do you."
How was it that Tony was the one for rent, and Steve was tying him in knots? It was definitely supposed to be the other way around. Tony's hand worked his dick in long, slow strokes. "You want me to come prepared then? Or do you want to lube me up?"
Whatever it was about that, it did it. Steve groaned, long and loud. Tony's stomach did a flip and splashed down right in the middle of his libido. Jesus fuck, that's—He squeezed down low, keeping himself from going off yet.
"I guess that's a yes to doing me yourself?" Tony asked, when he thought he could speak.
"Six o'clock tomorrow good for you?" Squeeze, flick the wrist, hold. He wasn't going to come over the phone. He was a goddamned professional covered in chocolate; he wasn't giving in that easy.
"Great, I'll see you then." Have to get off—of the phone, have to get off the phone— Wrist already working, Tony's thumb reached for the end button.
Hold, God damn it. "Yeah?"
"Are you going to charge me for this?"
He was going to die. His dick was going to explode, and he was going to die from phone sex with a guy who was half his size and paid for strangers to blow him. His parents would bury him in secret and tell people he ran off to be a professional crash test dummy to cover the shame.
Closing his eyes, Tony offered up a quick prayer to whatever deity looked out after the young and pretty that Steve would hang up the phone. "Call it a freebie. Because I like you."
"That's—thanks. Good night, Tony. I'll—" And there was that pause, like Rhodey's faces, and Tony just knew Steve was blushing. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah. See ya." As soon as the call disconnected, Tony threw his phone to the couch and set to work, pumping his dick like he was trying to give it rug burn. Three jerks was all it took before he came, digging his heels into sofa as his back arched, come splattering up onto his stomach and sweater, which was luckily already stained with chocolate and would probably have to be burned and buried in an unmarked grave anyway.
He laid back, staring at the ceiling through the lovely haze that came from a really amazing orgasm. If Steve was going to be a regular thing, he'd probably be able to drop Mr. Benedict and Mr. Snuggles. He could get by with Steve, Debbie, and Aaron, plus what he got for modeling and one or two that he could pick up in passing.
It was a workable idea. Less buying drinks, more letting other people buy for him. It was a plan, and it was a plan that would have him fucking Steve regularly and getting paid for it.
Things were looking up.
Steve squirmed, checking the time every few seconds, as if it would magically make the minute hand move faster, but no, it stayed stubbornly at five forty-something, only ticking forward occasionally. He and Bucky had taken over one of the low brick walls that hemmed in the plaza. Students wandered back and forth on the mall with the lazy energy that came at the end of the day, when the sun was setting and the only people panicking were the ones with evening classes. It was too cold for most people to linger, snow sharp and crisp enough on the ground to encourage hurrying.
"Are you okay?" Bucky eyed over his coffee—his iced cinnamon dolce latte, specifically, which was something Steve thought they might need to stage an intervention for. One of his holiday presents had been a Starbucks card, and he'd already zipped through it and had to be forcibly restrained from buying another with money that was meant for textbooks. "You keep looking at your watch."
"I'm fine," Steve said automatically, reaching for his inhaler, then putting it back unused. It was just the cold and nerves making his chest clench up, and inhalers were expensive. If he used it up and had to buy a new one, he'd go from eating ramen to eating nothing.
Or not seeing Tony again, and thinking about that made him think he might have another attack anyway. He didn't want to examine it too much. It was just sex; he wasn't that hard up.
Ice clinked as Bucky took another long draw at his favorite drug. "Don't give me that. I haven't seen you this nervous since you started dating Peggy—" He paused in the middle of sucking whipped cream from the rim of his cup. "Steve, have you got a date?"
"No!" Five-fifty. "Not really. Not a date." Sinking down on the ha-ha was practically impossible, since Steve was already on the edge and his feet didn't touch the ground. He gave it the good old college try anyway. For good measure, he fidgeted with his wristband. "I might be meeting someone. But it's not a date."
"Whatever you say, buddy." Bucky's shoulder bumped his. "So, who is she? She hot?"
"He's just a model for my life drawing class. I've got that project due Monday, and he agreed to sit for me so I can finish it." A terrible, total and complete lie. Steve had already given up and turned the thing in. He was pretty sure that Professor Aching was going to Have Words with him (probably including the big one, Disappointed) over the poor quality, but hopefully it wouldn't bring down his grade too much. Lie or not, the subject of patronizing a prostitute was never going to cross Steve's lips in Bucky's presence.
"Oh-ho, a model, huh?" A totally reasonable explanation seemed to spark Bucky's interest even more. He edged closer, until their hips were wedged together on the cold cement. "Is he hot, then?"
A blush crawled up his cheeks, which weren't nearly pink enough from cold to hide it. Five-fifty three. "Maybe. If you like that sort of thing. Don't you have class at six?"
The last of the latte vanished down Bucky's throat, and he tossed the cup into a trash can with sniper-like precision. "Five after. You're trapped. Spill the beans or I'll tell Sam where you hid the fuzzy blanket."
Steve stared in outraged shock. "You wouldn't."
The fuzzy blanket. There was only one blanket like it in the house, old and worn until the pattern had faded to muddled gray. It was made out of that weird furry material that wasn't really thermal but almost, and was probably the warmest thing any of them had ever seen that hadn't been in a crib. Steve liked to use it under his sheets, but Sam had started stealing it to cover his feet when he was on the sofa instead of using slippers like everyone else. The resultant conflict of interests had sparked a small war and a prolonged game of Hide the Blanket. Just then, Steve was ahead by a cardboard shoebox at the bottom of his laundry basket. All it would take was one slip, and Sam would have it again.
"You're a terrible person."
Pointedly, Bucky reached over and grabbed Steve's wrist, checking the time. "You've got six minutes until I have to leave for class. If I don't have details by then, I'm texting Sam."
Steve huddled lower in his coat, quickly rearranging facts in his head to cut out as much of the and I paid him fifty dollars for oral sex as possible. It was going to be hard. Bucky had a lie detector built in that Steve had never managed to slip by. "Okay, he's hot. Gorgeous."
Bucky nodded, obvious having anticipated that Steve would admit that much. "And he's going to sit around naked for you in an empty classroom."
In a very technical sense... "Yeah."
"Have you kissed?"
No, because his mouth was too busy— "No!" The blush, which was already bad enough without help, went from rosy to fire engine. "No, we haven't kissed."
Rogers, if you're going to pay someone to blow you, you should at least be able to think about it without turning into a tomato. But thinking about it inevitably reminded him of how Tony had looked, with his lips red and swollen and that little smear of come at the corner of his mouth and what they were going to do—
He slammed a mental lid down on those thoughts as fast as he could.
Lips flat, eyes narrow, Bucky stared at him, and Steve could see the lie detector beeping away in his head. Steve held his breath and prayed that he didn't look too guilty.
"No kissing, then," Bucky said slowly, like he could taste the words. "You're not lying, but... not on the mouth?" Biting his lips, Steve shook his head. "Cheek?" Shake. "Forehead?" Shake. "Nose?" Shake. "Lower?" Choke, and Bucky's eyes lit up with the perverse joy of discovery. "Steve, you rascal! Did you really—? Without kissing him first?"
There wasn't air enough to answer, so Steve hid his face in his arms and nodded. At least Bucky hadn't figured out the money part yet. As a saving grace, it wasn't much, but Steve would take whatever he could get.
"I didn't think you had it in you." Next to him, Bucky's body heat vanished. "I've got class, and you've got a hot not-date."
Panicked, Steve looked down at his watch. Six oh-one. "Damn it!" Grabbing his bag, he dropped the six inches to the sidewalk and took off at a sprint. Behind him, he could hear Bucky laughing hysterically.
"Get a kiss this time, bro!"
The art building wasn't too far, but Steve was panting by the time he fell into the classroom.
Tony looked up from where he'd sprawled over the professor's desk. Instead of something sensible and warm, he was wearing a pair of jeans that were practically made of rips and a thin t-shirt that showed off exactly how cold it was. The way he'd stretched out had caused his shirt to ruck up, showing a tiny sliver of skin and the dark trail of hair that dipped down below his waistband. It was obvious he'd set himself up for display. "Thought you weren't going to make it."
Steve braced himself on his knees and focused on breathing. Air in, air out, steady and deep and why had he run all the way across the mall? His lungs were on fire, but at least he could breathe. I need to start working out.
Pushing up on his elbows, Tony swiveled around so he was facing Steve, legs dangling off the desk. "Hey, you okay? You're not going to die on me or something, are you?"
Shaking his head, Steve tried to straighten, and was pleased when he could. "No—no, I just ran," he said, between deep, slowing breaths. "Didn't want to miss you."
"Aw, that's sweet." Tony's legs swung, heels knocking into the metal side of the desk with a hollow noise. "I was waiting, you know. Got no one else to do tonight."
The stretchy, tight feeling in Steve's chest eased, and he let himself lean back against the wall. "No one? It's a Friday. I kind of thought you'd have plans—things to do, people to see." Tony didn't seem like the kind of guy who sat at home and read on a Friday night, even if he wasn't working.
"I do." One of Tony's shoulders moved in a shrug. He tilted his head sideways and smirked, clearly knowing exactly how appealing he looked. "You."
The reminder made Steve's mouth go a little dry. "You make it sound so simple."
"Why should it be complicated?" Tony looked genuinely confused. "It's just sex."
"Flat rate. The post office is more complicated than that."
"Snow, rain, sleet, hail or gloom of night?" Almost in spite of himself, Steve started to relax. Tony was easy to talk to. It wasn't hard to just not think about the money. He was just a guy who apparently liked Steve enough to have sex with him. Why didn't have to come up until later. "That's pretty impressive."
"I always deliver on time, too." Sneakers drummed the desk as Tony spread his legs and patted the surface between them. "You going to stay over there all night and chat me up? Not that I'm judging, if that's your thing, but I thought you had something you wanted to try."
"No I—" Catching himself with an apology on the tip of his tongue, Steve laughed and pushed his bag back against the wall with the tip of his toe. He shrugged out of his thick winter coat next, and the sweater under it, leaving him in just a long-sleeved thermal shirt and his jeans. "I'm just nervous. You're—you know. Sexy."
"Most modest guy you'll ever meet." Tony grinned and patted the desk again. "C'mere."
Nerves and want jostling for place in his head, Steve fitted himself between Tony's thighs. Cold as the rest of the room was, Tony was like a furnace, heating him right through his clothes. Letting out a breath, Steve turned his face up and, before his anxiety could stop him, brushed his lips over Tony's. It felt like a first kiss, no matter how ridiculous that idea was. Kisses that were bought and paid for didn't count.
Tony really was gorgeous, slim curves of muscle covered in what had to be a mostly natural tan, all elegant lines and long limbs, like a young thoroughbred that was still growing. Which might have actually been the case; Bucky was only a couple years younger than Steve, and he'd been short and skinny until he was nearly twenty, when he outgrew his clothes overnight. Tony was probably Bucky's age, Steve estimated—twenty-three or twenty-two. He couldn't have been much younger and been a senior.
Swallowing, Steve kissed him again, letting his hands slide along those long legs, feel the bend of the knee where his pen could have lingered for years and not captured the perfect angle of it. "So," Steve asked, "how do we start?"
"You're the customer." The tip of Tony's nose dragged over Steve's cheek. "You get to call the shots."
Choices. Steve really had hoped to avoid those, but he guessed he should have known he wouldn't be able to. "Then—I guess turn around? Over the desk?"
"You sound so certain," Tony laughed, making Steve's embarrassment just deepen.
"I've never—not for money," Steve tried to explained, pulling his hands off Tony. "It's not like it was with Peggy." It was awkward and weird, that was what it was. He didn't have it in him to just get on with things, no matter if Tony was just someone with a job to do. Steve just didn't work that way. "Maybe this was a bad idea. I'm sorry I wasted your time."
"Hold hold hold it." Tony's knees tightened, catching Steve around the waist unless he wanted to try and fight for freedom. He pulled Steve back in close, this time enough that their hips pressed together. Warm, soft lips dragged over Steve's, just a feather-light touch of skin to skin. "Let's try it your way before you back out on me, huh? Sex is supposed to be fun, not all tense. Come on."
"I..." What would it hurt? Steve asked himself, staring at Tony's eyes. Maybe he wouldn't be able to relax, and it would just be money wasted, but maybe... "Alright."
Another kiss, less fragile than the last, and then another as Tony's fingers slid up into his hair. The kisses stayed mostly soft at first, Tony coaxing him into responding with little sighs and nudges. Almost, Steve could believe that Tony actually wanted to be there, that it wasn't just for some quick cash. His hands skimmed under Tony's shirt, feeling the faint outline of his ribs, less prominent than Steve's but still visibly lean. Tony let Steve strip off the shirt entirely.
For all that Steve was the skinnier one, his palms were huge against Tony's chest. He ran his thumbs along the sharp jut of Tony's hips where black ink peeked out, nuzzled a kiss to the hollow at his throat. When Steve's tongue darted out to lick it, his nose wrinkled at the sharp, bitter taste of cologne.
"Better now?" To Steve's delight and surprise, Tony sounded breathless. He squirmed, rocking against Steve. Thin denim did nothing to hide the hard length of Tony's cock. "Please tell me you're better."
"Yeah. Better." Nervous still, but not so stiff. He could do it; Tony was just another guy. Whatever happened after was after. As long as Steve kept telling himself that, the butterflies were manageable. "Turn."
Eagerly, Tony wiggled around, planting his feet on the concrete and his elbows on the desk. Steve's hands shook a little as he popped the fly on Tony's jeans and rolled them down his hips. Up close, Tony's ass was just as nice as Steve had always thought, the dip of his back turning into a perfect curve, just slightly lighter than the rest of his skin. Even though it wasn't easy to see at that angle, Steve still rubbed his thumb over Tony's tattoo. It got him a shiver in response that made Steve's heart give a funny flip.
Tony had brought lube and condoms in a little paper grocery bag, both still new and in their boxes, which was a huge relief—Steve hadn't even thought of that, and he really should have. The lube was water-based, nice and slick when Steve spread it on his fingers. Rubbing it between them, Steve shook his head and squirted a larger handful, working it between his hands while Tony watched over his shoulder, eyebrows furrowed.
"You're really—what are you doing?" One leg twisted around Steve's to bop the small of his back. "Are you delaying, or do you have a thing for lube, too?"
"It was cold," Steve explained, frowning a little. Peggy had done it back when they were together, before she'd gone off to the army. Sometimes she'd even just boil a pot of water and then drop the bottle in, like milk for an infant. He'd never really thought it was weird, but maybe Peggy had just been different. "What, no one ever did that for you before?"
"No, it's..." An odd, wistful expression flickered across Tony's face before he turned back around. "Whatever makes you happy, I guess."
Weird guy. It didn't take more than a minute to warm the lube up to body temperature, and by then it had lost some of its gel-like gloopiness, so it ended up being a good thing that he'd poured a handful. Steve smeared it over his fingers generously, sliding it along Tony's crack before pushing one finger in. Tony made a soft, strange noise, back arching a little. He opened easily, without really any fight for the first finger. Still, Steve took his time, making sure to work him slowly, massaging the muscles from the inside. Paid or not, he'd never forgive himself if he'd hurt anyone just because he was overeager and impatient.
When Tony started squirming, Steve took it as a good sign and pressed in a second finger, easing them back and forth in slow, loose motions. The tip of his finger brushed against a spot with a lightly different texture, and the impatient wiggles froze.
Tony let out a high, urgent-sounding noise in the back of his throat. "You can do that again any time."
"I'll remember that." Steve curled his fingers against it again and trying to mark the spot in his memory. He had a feeling it might take a few tries.
After that, easy turned to downright loose, Tony's muscles relaxing and swallowing Steve's fingers to the last knuckle without a problem. Suddenly, Peggy's interest in this made a lot of sense, even if she had used a strap-on instead. Each little squirm made Steve's cock tighten or his breath pause until he was afraid he'd go off just from getting Tony ready. There was something fascinating in the way Tony's muscles trembled around his fingers and the arch of his back when he rocked his hips.
Leaning forward, Steve dragged his tongue along the dip of Tony's spine. His fingers curled again, fumbling for that spongy little place—prostate, he remembered faintly—when Tony's whole body jerked.
"Fuck," Tony groaned in frustration, pushing his hips back with a needy whine. The flat of his palm slapped against the desktop and he did it again, jamming himself down onto Steve's fingers. "If I get more ready, I'm going to be done."
"Already?" A little bit of pride might have touched Steve's voice, not that he'd ever admit it.
"Already? What do you mean, already? You've been—" There was a thump as Tony's forehead dropped heavily to the desk. "Look, if you don't get your dick in me right now, I'm charging extra."
It wasn't Steve's fault that he laughed, but he did reach for the box of condoms as ordered. "Yes, sir."
The condoms were one of the super, ridiculously large sizes that guys mostly got to cater to their ego. Ripping the foil, it didn't really look any different from most, but Steve still grinned a little. "Super Soldier Magnum? Really?"
"Hey, I've had your dick in my mouth. I know what size it is." Another pop of Tony's heel against his backside, like it would make Steve roll on the condom faster. "Come on, counting down to a ten dollar upcharge."
It was too much. Steve pressed his forehead between Tony's shoulders and started laughing. Every few seconds, Tony's heel would bounce against him again, just when he was starting to get a grip, and it would set him off again. He tried to tell Tony that the kicks weren't helping, but he barely managed a couple of words before the next would come.
After about three minutes of it, Tony got fed up enough to reach behind and grab Steve's cock for himself. A second of fumbling and he sank backward. Warm, tight muscle wrapped around Steve's cock, and suddenly he was breathless for reasons that only had a little to do with the snickers that still escaped him.
"When I said sex is supposed to be fun, I didn't mean laugh at me," Tony grumbled, grinding back against Steve.
Swallowing back the last bit of his amusement, Steve kissed Tony's back, right over his bumpy spine. Strangely, the laughter had relaxed what the kisses hadn't. Maybe it was just Tony, but he suspected that most hookers didn't start getting demanding. "Sorry."
"No you're not."
"You're right. I'm not." Another kiss, and Steve started to move. It was different than being inside Peggy—tighter, mostly. Even though he thought he had worked Tony over pretty good, he could still feel Tony's muscles dragging at him, see him cling. A few slow thrusts opened him up more, but it was a tighter fit than Steve had expected.
He wasn't the only one who thought so. Tony lifted up on his elbows with a groan, pushing back with a gasp that Steve hoped was a good one. It was slow going at first, a little too tight.. He couldn't fight Tony's muscles enough to move actually freely, so he did the best he could with slow, deep thrusts Tony seemed to like it at least, making little noises that clenched him even tighter around Steve.
"Maybe the soldiers weren't big enough after all," Tony groaned, throat visibly working as his head tilted back.
Steve hesitated, fingers digging into Tony's hip to keep him still for a second. He wanted to move, to slam in but he couldn't and it was driving him mad. "Do you want—is it too much—"
"Stop and I'm charging you triple," Tony threatened, pulling free of Steve's hand and pushing back again.
Only needing a couple of hints, Steve started moving again. He tried speeding up to give Tony what they both wanted, but he couldn't find a pace. There was no slap of skin, no quick build of tension, just a slow burn that he was pretty sure was going to kill him.
Rising from elbows to hands, Tony braced himself against the desk, rocking back harder, fighting to make Steve go faster. "Steve," he whined, reaching pitches that could really only be called needy. "Please—please, come on, just a little...?"
Biting his lip, Steve tried to think back through the fog of frustration. He slid lower, pressing his forehead against Tony's shoulder and thrust—
Tony rose up on his toes, choking off a sound that might have been Steve's name. Reaching around, Steve fisted his cock, flicking his wrist in short, hard strokes that had Tony coming in less than a minute. His whole body tightened, arching back into Steve and clamping down. The vain hope Steve had of relaxing Tony more died as it practically dragged his own orgasm out of him, milking him right along with Tony.
They both fell forward against the desk, Tony face-first and Steve catching himself with his arms. Steve was too skinny to do any crushing, but he had a feeling that if he fell he'd keep falling. Concrete floors hurt. Pain wasn't a friend he cared to have visit often.
"Well?" Tony asked, voice muffled by the desk. "What'ya think?"
Slow, was Steve's first thought. Sometimes slow was good, but he hadn't had a choice. There just hadn't been room to move, not the way he'd wanted to, and he was pretty sure not the way Tony had wanted him to, either. "I think next time, we'll do it the other way," he decided, dropping his head in exhaustion.
"So there's going to be a next time?" Tony's head rolled, a hint of blue peeking out from the corner of his eye.
Steve hadn't actually decided that there would be, but he nodded again and closed his eyes. "Sure, why not?" It wasn't that much, really. And he liked Tony.
"Oh, good." Underneath him, he felt Tony's back heave in a sigh. "No upcharge, then."
"I don't know what you hear when I say things, but when I told you not to become a hooker, I meant don't do it." Rhodey was sprawled out on Tony's bed, dressed for class other than his blue fuzzy slippers. As soon as Tony had told him what his plans were for the night, he'd thrown himself down, hidden his face, and not come out. Not even peek-a-boo had worked, and Tony was a master at peek-a-boo.
"Go be a hooker, got it, Rhodey." Tony held up two shirts, trying to decide. Neither had seen their best day, but he'd figured out fast that whatever he wore out had a pretty good chance of being ruined. But it was Steve, not some freak with a hard on for hot young Stark ass—which, granted, was most people, but Steve wasn't weird about it, at least. "Which is better, the blue or Motley Crüe?"
"Motley Crüe," Rhodey answered without pulling his head out of the pillow. "Tony, come on, I'm really worried about you here."
Discarding the blue into the dirty clothes pile, Tony pulled the band shirt over his head. "What's to worry about? It's Steve—he's about as dangerous as a puppy. One of those little cuddly ones with the big eyes and way too much fur." No cologne, Steve never said anything, but he always wrinkled his nose when Tony wore it. Maybe one of the girly body mist things Rhodey used?
"Maybe a rabid puppy. Tony—Tony." Rhodey sat up, holding the pillow to his chest. "Listen to me, man, I'm serious."
Huffing, Tony turned around and crossed his arms, leaning back against the dresser. "Listening."
Nearly as earnest as Steve on an off-day, Rhodey said, "This Steve guy calls you every week. You text him dirty messages in physics—yeah, I saw it, shut up and listen—and I know you've had dinner with him last month, and sometimes you don't come home until the asscrack of dawn, and I worry about you. That's not safe."
Okay, when Rhodey put it that way, it did sound a little weird. Shuffling a bare foot against the carpet, Tony shrugged. "It's just business. He just doesn't think I eat enough, so he started buying me meals."
"Tones... it's not normal. Sex—even paying for it, yeah, I get that. I don't like it, but I get that. But this is way more than that."
Judgey. Rhodey's expression was getting judgey, and while he was allowed to do that to Tony, Steve didn't deserve it. Bristling, Tony set his jaw. "Steve's a nice guy—an actual nice guy, not like that asshole last month. You know how many nice guys I know? You. So give him a break, okay?"
Over the top of the pillow, Rhodey stared at him hard. "If I didn't know he paid you, I'd think he was your boyfriend." Ouch. Tony winced, and the pillow dropped to the floor. "Is he? Is he paying you to date him? That's just messed up, Tones."
"It's not like that!" Defensive didn't look good on anyone, but what the hell, it wasn't like he had much to defend left. "Look, he's just—it's not what you think, so can it with the holier than thou."
Awkward silence descended, and Tony turned his back to start digging through Rhodey's stuff for a body mist that wasn't too girly. There had to be something that wouldn't make him smell like he rolled in an issue of Cosmo. Or maybe he'd just mix some cologne with water to dilute it; he was pretty sure it was the strength that got Steve's asthma going.
After a second, Rhodey spoke again. "Do you like him? Like—would you date him? No money involved?"
Tony's hands paused over Body for Men. He thought about Steve's eyes, and how he curled up inside his hoodie even though it had started to warm up because he had less meat on him than Tony, and that took work. How his whole face lit up when he laughed. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Are you even seeing anyone else?"
Double ouch. He picked up a different bottle and gave it an experimental sniff. How many of these things did Rhodey have, anyway? "Not really. I make enough from the art school thing and..." Tony shrugged and let the second bottle drop. "You know, it just wasn't what I'd thought it would be." There'd be a few close calls, people who thought they could get away with crap, and a lot of people who just weren't worth his time. It'd been easier to cut down on partying.
And there was still Steve, anyway.
Another silence, and then a sigh. "Dude, you are so in deep shit."
Steve's hands on his hips and the smudge of color that was always somewhere on his face after art class and the way he talked about American History and how he'd held that kitten he found behind the pizza place like it was made of spun sunshine and the way he frowned when Tony said he wasn't hungry—
"Rub it in, why don't you?" Tony wasn't going to think about it, wasn't going to even ask if Steve might want for free what he was paying for, because the chance of no was just too damned high. Steve just felt sorry for him, thought Tony was some poor kid having trouble putting food on the table, so he was nice to him, hired him out, made sure he ate. That was all, and pretending there might be more to it was just stupid. They'd get through the semester, Tony would graduate, that that would be the end of that.
—and the way he blushed when Tony finally got his pants off and the sound of his voice when he came and how he always came too fast and how damned much he always wanted Tony to come too even if he was already done and the way the sunlight hit his hair in the morning the few times Tony had snuck into his room and and and...
"You're going to regret this."
"Yeah." Body for Men was just going to have to do, even if it did smell like dead flowers and baby powder. Tony sprayed it on lightly, one careful squirt at a time, and hoped it wouldn't be too much for Steve's nose to handle. "Yeah, I know."
Steve collapsed to the bed, dragging Tony with him into a kiss, hands running up his back to strip off his t-shirt with a practiced move. The thin, patched comforter bunched up under their legs until Steve kicked it to the floor.
It felt perfect and weird, bringing Tony back home, so he only did it once in a while. It was a thousand times better than a string of empty classrooms or closets or—most memorably—the thick bushes back behind the library. No one was around to ask who Tony was, either, since they'd all gone out to some ridiculous pseudo-historical drama. There was plenty of time.
Tony groaned and straddled Steve's hips, grinning. He'd chopped his hair short, so it didn't fall in his eyes the way it used to, but it was still soft when Steve ran his fingers through it. "Eager, aren't you?"
"Been two weeks," Steve muttered, yanking him down for another kiss. Two incredibly long, frustrating weeks, but he'd put away enough in overtime to see Tony at least three or four more times. Steve had gotten used to seeing Tony every payday, whether it was a quickie or something else. He'd also gotten used to eating a lot of cheap stir-fry.
Clever fingers flicked open the buttons on Steve's shirt, then spread it open so Tony could run his hands over Steve's chest. Muscle had finally started to pad his ribs after months of working stock for the art store, and Tony took his time examining them, thumb flicking over the peaked nipple, then drawing down over the faintly defined pecs. "Looking good there. Where'd my scrawny art student go?"
"Still here, just slightly less scrawny." Wrapping his hands around Tony's waist, Steve pressed his thumb against the tattoo that he still didn't know the meaning of. The bones that poked out under Tony's skin bothered him, but Tony swore he wasn't starving, and some high-energy people did stay skinny without being unhealthy. No telling which Tony was without knowing more about him than he'd ever let Steve find out. That didn't stop him from trying. "What about you? Eat dinner yet?"
Laughter huffed against his skin. "Yes, mother. Fruits and vegetables and three ounces of meat, I promise." Tony peeked up at him with bright eyes, and Steve really, really hoped that was real happiness and not just making rent. "I stay warm, too. Roommate pins mittens to my sweater every morning."
"That's—good," Steve smiled, running his fingers up Tony's spine. "You need someone to look out for you."
The loose, lazy set of Tony's shoulders went stiff. He pushed up, locking his elbows, pride and panic and something very close to shame in his eyes. "Steve, no. I'm not some kitten you can take in off the street. It's a lot more complicated than that."
"I know." Swallowing back his nerves, Steve thought about asking Tony to move into the flat for the umpteenth time. Their rent was cheap, probably cheaper than whatever Tony was already paying, and Steve was already practically giving Tony his share of the bills already. But Tony would never go for it, and asking just might send him running. And if that was bad, saying I love you probably meant he wouldn't stop for his shirt. "I just worry about you."
Tension eased from Tony's expression. Dipping his head, he pressed a slow kiss to Steve's mouth. "Don't. I've got everything under control. Now why don't we—"
Something buzzed against Steve's hip, a sharp vibrating rattle that made him jump.
Why won't you answer me? Hello? This is your cell phone! What, you think you can just keep me in your pocket like some dirty little—beeeeeep!
They froze, staring at each other. Then Tony collapsed forward, laughing as he dug into his pocket. The phone he pulled out was shiny and sleek, glittering in the lamplight, and looked like it might cost more than Steve's tuition.
"Sorry," Tony snickered, flicking it open. "I thought I'd turned that..." His expression fell. "... Off. Sorry, I've got to take this."
Twisting his hips, Tony slid off Steve and turned his back, lifting the phone to his ear. He hunched forward, as if Steve couldn't hear every word he said. "Dad, what the hell, you never call this late—Jarvis? No—no, I'm at a friend's... What do you mean, an accident?" As Steve listened, Tony's voice got quieter and quieter, until it had nearly vanished. "Are they..? Oh. Okay. Yeah, I'll—yeah. Yeah. Bye."
After the call ended, Tony didn't move. Cautiously, Steve edged across the bed to sit by him. "Did something happen?"
Sagging sideways, Tony leaned his temple on Steve's shoulder. His eyes were closed, but the lashes had clumped together. "There was an accident. My parents..." Tony's throat worked in a hard swallow. In a burst of energy, he pushed off the bed and reached for his shirt, yanking it on over his head. "I have to go. My uncle's got me a plane ticket home for the—I have to go."
Buttoning up his shirt, Steve reached for his wallet and scooter keys on the bedside table. "I'll give you a ride—"
Steve's hand paused just above his keys. "Tony..."
Jaw tight, Tony forced out a smile, lips pressed together. The rims of his eyes were suspiciously red, even though his cheeks were dry. He sat down to shove his feet into sneakers that he hadn't even bothered undoing the laces on. "It's not that far. And I need—I just need some space, you know?"
"Yeah. I know." Steve had lost his mother years before, but he still remembered what it was like. Deep down, he hoped they were just hurt, but he didn't think so. Not by the way Tony was acting. "Call if you need someone to talk to, alright? I mean that."
"You're a good guy, Steve." Crawling up the bed, Tony sat himself on Steve's lap and dragged him into a kiss, slow and sweet and just a little desperate. Tony's fingers dug bruises into his shoulders, and against his chest Steve could feel him shaking. "I'll call, okay? Save that fifty for me."
Dread curled in Steve's stomach, but he just nodded and swallowed back his doubts. "I'll keep it in my wallet."
Steve gave it two weeks before trying himself, sitting on the edge of the bed clutching his fifty dollars in one hand and his phone in the other, listening to the voice over and over again.
The number you have dialed is no longer in service.
Chapter 2: BLC2240: Advanced Bad Life Choices
Tony wove back and forth through the crowd, champagne in one hand, girl in the other, a tiny, dark-haired girl with amazing hair and huge brown eyes. Sherry or Cherie or something of the sort. What was important was, she was hot, and she was his arm candy for the evening. She practically painted herself against him as he paused to chat up people, perfectly content to just nod along.
"It's good to see what you've done with the old family business, Anthony," the current old guy was saying, slapping Tony's shoulder. Nighttime and inside, and he was still in sunglasses. Tony couldn't recognize him for a lick anyway, but the glasses just made it impossible. "And good to see the Maria Stark Foundation taking off the way it has. Your mother would be proud, son."
Shrugging, Tony tried to look modest. It wasn't easy for someone as awesome as he was, but he had practice. "Mom always wanted to start a charity, and I've been interested in funding the arts since college." Well, being funded by them anyway, but the only people who knew that story were Pepper and Rhodey. Not even the tabloids had gotten a whiff of it, which was damn near a miracle, since they'd latched on to everything else he'd ever done. The way they got, he kept expecting to have to apologize to PETA for having bacon for breakfast. "It's good seeing you again, sir, but I really should refresh my drink."
Tilting his flute of champagne, Tony nodded and tugged his arm ornament off into the crowd, toward the bar. The bartender, who knew his boss and knew him well, already had a fresh flue ready when he got there.
One of Cherie's arms curled around his neck, drawing him down so she could whisper, "I'm going to powder my nose. Be back."
Batting his eyes, Tony smacked a kiss to her lips. "I'll be waiting."
She winked and swished off, hips rolling in her ridiculously high heels. Seeing her walk away was one of the best parts of goodbye. He settled against the edge of the bar, people watching while his date did whatever it was girls did in the bathroom when they said they were powdering their nose. Long experience had taught him that it probably involved lipstick and other men, but he could hardly complain, since he was usually the other man.
He loved parties, and especially loved the ones he got to host. Pepper had gotten good at anticipating what would be in for gala events in any given year, sometimes even setting the trend rolling. There was a thrill in watching people talk and know that they were talking about him. Same thing for tech expos, press conferences and the occasional tabloid cover.
Tony was just thinking about wandering over to a group of models and finding out if any of them would like to keep him company when a voice he hadn't heard for ten years said, "Tony?"
Someone blond and tall and oh god muscles edged his way through a group of older women. One of them made an obvious attempt to grab a handful of his ass, but he swiveled expertly out of the way without seeming to notice, like he had a grabby hands radar. "You're Tony, right? I almost didn't recognize you with the goatee, but..." He seemed to recognize Tony's blank expression for what it was because he added hopefully, "It's Steve. From school?"
"Steve—Steve?" Tony's jaw dropped. Sometime in the ten years since MIT, Steve had gone from scrawny to built. Even his well-tailored tuxedo was having trouble containing all his muscles. Tony didn't bother to hide how he was eying Steve up and down. Everyone else was doing it. Cliff, Tony Stark. Tony Stark, cliff. Jump, boy, jump! "You're... what the hell happened, did you get a visit from the sex fairy?"
A blush crawled up Steve's cheeks, still as bright as Tony remembered from all those fifty dollar nights out. "I started working out a few years ago. You—you look good too. You're doing okay?"
"Doing—yeah, I'm fabulous. Better now that you're here." Grinning, Tony hooked his fingers around Steve's arm—there was no way he'd get his arm around his shoulders without snuggling close, and if Tony was going to be wedged next to that he couldn't swear he wouldn't set off the grabby hands radar—and dragged him off. Cherie would find someone else to hang on for the night, old friends first. She'd manage. "What are you doing in New York? This is the last place I expected to see you."
"I did some art for the Foundation—a mural. It got me an invitation." Easy as ever, Steve let Tony pull him off away from the bar toward the sidelines. "What about you? What are you here for?"
The brief elation at seeing Steve again turned to a rock, plummeting to the bottom of Tony's stomach. I'm supposed to be giving a speech in fifteen minutes. Fuck. "You know. Business," he answered airily, while panic ran in ever faster circles through his skull, waving signs that featured the word apocalypse in bright lettering.
Had he ever told Steve his full name? He'd been really stupid about a lot of things back then, took dumb chances so often it was a miracle he'd made it to adulthood, but he was pretty sure who he was hadn't been one of them. And he'd changed a lot—there was a big difference between seventeen and twenty-seven. Not many people would look for their old hooker in the successful owner of a major multinational tech company.
"Business?" Steve stared at him with a worried frown, and yep, that expression still made Tony's heart hula hoop. All sorts of people worried about Tony, but none of them had quite as much impact as Steve. He still ate his vegetables, and his mother hadn't been able to accomplish that in seventeen years of nagging. "You're not still—you know. Are you?"
While his brain was otherwise occupied, Tony's mouth did what it usually did, which was get him in trouble. "That depends. Do you still have that fifty?"
Tony couldn't give that speech, couldn't hand out awards, and definitely couldn't get up on that stage. He wasn't going to stand up in front of thousands of rich assholes and watch while Steve made the connections, wasn't going to see the betrayal there. It just wasn't going to happen.
Possibilities ran through his head, side-by-side with panic. Drown myself in the pool? No, Pepper would fish me out, prop me up and make me do it anyway. Terrorist attack? Nope, news interview, Steve would see. Fake a heart attack? There had to be something, somehow, that would get him out of it without making the eleven o'clock news.
Steve's adam's apple bobbed. "I—yeah, I promised, didn't I?"
That brought Tony's feet—and thoughts—to a screeching halt. No one could be that much of a sap, could they? "Wait, you do?" Eyes narrowed, he whipped Steve around, peering up at him—and up, and up, and fuck, Tony hadn't thought he'd been this tall. "What, the same bills and everything?"
Broad shoulders lifted in a shrug that could have launched a thousand issues of Playgirl. The flush was back, creeping up his neck, and Tony really, really wanted to lick it and see if Steve still tasted the same. "Same bills."
"Wow. That's..." Incredibly, impossibly, adorably sweet, his mind kicked in for him. His dick added sexy as hell for good measure, as if Tony needed the reminder.
In his pocket, his phone alarm beeped. Out of time.
Without another word, Tony grabbed Steve's jacket and yanked him through a door, to the back area of the banquet hall. It wasn't technically off limits, but there was no one there to see him shove Steve back against a wall and press their mouths together. Steve groaned, melting down into the wall, and really, it was stupidly easy to fall back into things. Muscles of like some sort of superhero or not, Steve still kissed like Steve. When Tony stuck a hand down his pants, that was still Steve's, too, right down to the tighty whities—like letting the boys breathe would kill a man—and Tony really had spent too much time in the past ten years missing this.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor to be with you tonight—" Rhodey's voice said over the speakers from somewhere behind them.
Steve didn't protest when Tony pulled his dick out, but when Tony hit his knees, Steve grabbed his shoulders for dear life. "We shouldn't—not here," he hissed, pushing at him. Interestingly, Steve's dick seemed to disagree with the protest. "Someone will see us."
"No one will see, they're all waiting in the main hall." Slowly, Tony dragged his tongue over the head of Steve's dick and had the pleasure of watching him swallow again. "Come on, for old time's sake?"
"—pleasure to introduce to you the owner of Stark Industries and the founder of the Maria Stark Foundation, Mr. Anthony Stark!"
A nod. It wasn't an unequivocal yes, fuck me now, Tony! but it would do. Wrapping his lips around Steve's dick, Tony let it slide over his tongue, heavy and hard and actually somehow better than he remembered it. He groaned, eyes slipping closed when Steve nudged against the back of his throat. For a second, he thought about giving deep throating a try, but an experimental swallow called that off right quick. Gag reflex was still a thing, apparently.
"—Mr. Stark? Has anyone seen Mr. Stark?"
Tony worked his tongue along the undershaft, letting enthusiasm and memory stand in for practice. It had been years since he was the sucker rather than the suckee. Not that Steve seemed to care. He threaded his fingers through Tony's fashionable shaggy cut and moaning like no one had blown him for a decade.
Somewhere between Steve being careful not to yank on his hair—damn it Mr. Snuggles, you ruined a good thing—and his jaw starting to ache, Tony started to get hard. It wasn't much at first, a curl of heat, but it built until he found his hand sliding down from Steve's thigh to rub his palm over his groin.
"—I guess Mr. Stark's been called out, so I'll have to hand out awards—"
Rolling his eyes upward, he saw Steve watching him through heavy eyes, flush creeping over his neck and cheeks and goddamn if it wasn't the hottest thing Tony had seen all year. It was enough that he finally gave in and unzipped his own pants. Pride was for the young.
Moans muffled by Steve's dick, Tony didn't last nearly as long as he'd hoped. In spite of the pain in his jaw and the way his knees were starting to go numb, Tony finished with a bang, coming all over his hand and sleeve. Steve, sweet, quick to go off Steve, lasted at least another two minutes before he came, semen splashing across the back of Tony's throat and forcing him to swallow or choke.
They stayed there for a second, Tony with his forehead against Steve's hip and Steve still holding his head. In spite of having just come, Tony felt like he could go again, and maybe this time not so fast it was like being fourteen in the shower again.
"You made me miss my award," Steve muttered between pants. "I heard my name called."
"They'll mail it to you." Nuzzling his cheek against Steve's hip—Steve's muscled hip, not a bony part on him, and wasn't that a change?—Tony looked up. "You have a ride?"
"Wanna get out of here? You already owe me a fifty—might as well get your money's worth."
The smile Steve gave him was nearly better than the orgasm. "Yeah. I've got an apartment. We can go there?"
When he came to his senses, Tony could already tell that he was going to hate himself. Lying to Steve when he'd been seventeen and dumb was one thing, but he was a grown man. There was no way Steve wouldn't find out, especially not with Tony's face popping up on magazine covers and news channels. It was kind of amazing that he hadn't found out yet already.
That just meant he'd have to keep from coming to his senses. Wouldn't be too hard; he'd managed not to for most of his life. "I know a back way out."
Steve habitually kept his apartment clean, in case company came over. He'd never been so grateful for that until he found himself unlocking the door to let Tony in.
Truthfully, he'd never expected to see Tony again. He'd hung onto the money because, well, it was a promise. You didn't break a promise just because you thought you'd never be called on it. Actually seeing him, dressed in a tuxedo that had obviously already been pawed over—by someone other than Steve—with lines starting to show up at the corners of his eyes, a little taller, a little broader in the chest and shoulder...
It made Steve feel like he was twenty four and still on that first fifty dollars again.
Tony looked around the living room like he could stick a price tag on everything in it, already half out of his tuxedo jacket. He toed the hardwood floor, then tilted his head back to eye the recessed lighting, then over to the sleek workstation tucked back in the corner. "Moving up in the world, huh? That a Starktech?"
Steve snatched up Tony's jacket before it could be folded up and left to wrinkle, carefully tucking it away in the coat closet with his own jacket and his riding leathers. "Yeah, I do graphics design sometimes. Nothing beats Starktech computers for it." Cost him an arm and a leg, but the quality difference more than made up for it. Jobs he wouldn't have been able to do by hand flowed.
"Yeah, I know." Grinning, Tony twisted and plopped himself down on the arm of Steve's couch. Knees spread, tie hanging loose and buttons disordered, he was a picture of debauchery that had Steve's fingers itching for a pencil. "No TV, huh. Guess you don't really need one. So you're doing okay? Really okay, not just being some old lady's boytoy?"
"I'm doing okay," Steve promised, sliding into the place between Tony's knees. Slim black silk tangled around his fingers as he used the tie to help keep Tony balanced. "Just finished a job for some books, and I might have a real position soon. Regular paycheck and everything."
"Really?" Tony's knees snugged up against Steve's hips, leaving the only thing between him and a short fall as a thin strip of black silk and Steve's good will. "That mean you might give me a call once in a while?"
"You didn't call me." Steve let go of the tie and gave a little push. Flailing, Tony toppled back to the couch cushions, with Steve following him down. He braced himself on either side of Tony's head, staring down at him. "Want to explain that one?"
A dozen different expressions flitted across Tony's face, from guilt to fear. The heels of his shoes pressed against Steve's thighs, sharp edges to contract the soft curve of the couch arm. "You're not going to believe me," Tony finally said, relaxing the rest of the way.
"Give it a shot anyway."
"My phone got stolen." Disbelief must have been obvious on Steve's face because Tony's heel jabbed into him. "No, really, hear me out. My phone got stolen, and it had a lot of sensitive information on it. Contacts, that sort of thing, so I had it remote-wiped as soon as I noticed it was gone."
That... made sense, actually. Whoever was in Tony's contact list could have been a customer. If Steve had been in his position, he probably would have done the same thing. "And the number? You changed it."
Impossibly, Tony sunk deeper into the cushions, when Steve had thought he'd already relaxed entirely. Sulky, avoidant, and guilty, he looked a lot more like he had back in college. "I was an idiot?"
Steve had rather been under the assumption that was already understood, but he had the good taste not to say so. "And?"
"And—after the funeral, I wasn't going back to Massachusetts. I had to stay in New York, take care of things, so I thought it would be easier to just... make a clean break of it." Tony didn't meet Steve's eyes. "And then I regretted it, but I couldn't get the number back no matter who I yelled at, and believe me, I did a lot of yelling."
It was a little late for Steve to wonder if he wanted to open the can of worms that was Tony again. No regret from how he'd spent way too much of his paycheck back then to rent Tony's time, but it was different doing things like that in college than it was as a working professional. And Tony was, apparently, still using his body to get by, which meant something had gone very, very wrong.
But it was Tony. Steve was already starting to wonder if he had a safe place to go after this, if he got regular meals, if his customers were safe. He didn't think he'd ever forgive himself if he let Tony walk out without at least being able to check up on him. "If I ask for your number again, you're not going to change it again, are you?"
Solemnly, Tony crossed his heart with a finger. Surprisingly strong arms locked around Steve's neck, forcing him down into a kiss. Facial hair scratched at Steve's cheek, strange and new and oddly exciting. "You didn't used to be this serious," Tony murmured against his lips. "What happened to my blushing art student?"
"He grew up." Tony's shirt was already nearly pulled out of his pants, so Steve finished the job, yanking it up. Abs rippled under Steve's fingertips as he pushed Tony's shirt up to his chin. His tongue followed, tasting the lines and ridges all the way up to Tony's nipple. "Learned some tricks, too. I'll trade you for your phone number."
Tony's back arched up into Steve's mouth. "I thought I was the one getting paid here," he breathed, voice dropping down an octave.
"My money, I'll spend it however I want." The button on Tony's trousers hadn't snapped all the way; it popped free with just a little pressure from Steve's thumb. Underneath—yes, boxer briefs, and a cock that was already getting hard. Steve pressed the heel of his hand to it, giving a light rub.
Using his stomach muscles, Tony lifted himself up, teeth sliding along Steve's earlobe. He whispered the number between bites. Steve rewarded him by working his fingers up and down the shaft, occasionally dipping lower to play with his balls.
Let go of Tony, or stay on the couch where there was less room to maneuver but a handy arm? Steve kissed Tony's jaw, tasting salty sweat and a bite of cologne that made his nose wrinkle. "Here or the bedroom?"
Tony's legs snapped tighter around Steve's waist so he could grind up into Steve's hand. "Bedroom," he groaned, rocking again. "Put those new muscles to work?"
"Lazy." But it actually wasn't much work to slip his arms around Tony's back and pull him up. Lower back muscles strained and would probably be sore if he had to do it twice, but it worked. Once Tony was up and balanced against his hips, Steve only had to keep him from falling, which was altogether a much easier task. They staggered from the den to the single bedroom, Tony doing his utmost to be dropped like a sack of potatoes by nibbling on Steve's neck and ear.
Steve held on until his knees bumped against the bed, at which point he let go. Tony bounced onto it, flailing as he tried to find his balance again. Before he could get his feet under him and start acting up, Steve grabbed his ankles and gave a hard yank until his hips were level with the edge of the bed. "Hold still."
Outrage turned Tony's face dark red, but Steve was already stripping off his shoes, tossing them into the corner with his dress socks. One quick tug pulled Tony's slacks down his hips, and another had them right off. Underwear was trickier. Tony started squirming, maybe trying to be helpful but mostly getting in the way until Steve just grabbed the elastic and pulled until they joined the pile of shoes. The shirt could wait; he didn't have the patience to deal with buttons.
"You could have just asked me to undress, you know." Dark blue eyes watched with fascination as Steve knelt down between Tony's knees. "What are you doing? I'm pretty sure blow jobs are my job in this arrangement."
"My money," Steve repeated, kissing the inside of one leg. The tattoo was still there on Tony's hip, a little faded with time. Darker, fresher, was another one over the top of it—a circle with an arrow coming out of it, like Mars in the astrology pages. "And who says I'm going for your cock?" Not that Tony's cock wasn't as gorgeous as the rest of him, dark at the head, leading down to a lighter flush over his tan skin, not quite hard but on its way. Steve wouldn't have minded swallowing it down at all.
His tongue trailed a line up Tony's skin, swirling whenever it touched a spot that got a shiver. The skin of his inner thigh was softer than the rest of it, smooth and only a little sweaty. Tony's breath let out in a hard sound when Steve pressed his knees up to lift Tony's hips off the bed. He dragged his teeth along the smooth stretch, leaving a line of fading red before he found enough meat to sink them into.
"Fuck!" Tony's whole body curled in, muscles going tight and straining.
Hurriedly, Steve let go, looking up to see if he'd gone too far. Sharp little gasps made Tony tremble, and his eyes were locked closed, but he tapped a heel against Steve's shoulder.
"Do that again?"
Grinning a little, Steve found another soft, tender place on the curve of Tony's ass and bit. This time when Tony bucked, he held on, sucking until he could taste blood rising under the skin. Skin popped when he let go, the suction having created a deep red spot, almost certain to bruise. Watching it darken made his throat tight. No matter who Tony was with after this, they'd know that Steve was there first.
Trembles ran up and down Tony's body, making him shake under Steve's hands. His cock had gone fully hard, and he held onto the coverlet like it was a life preserver. "You didn't used to be so bitey," he gasped, thumping his head back to the mattress.
"I've learned things." Nuzzling deeper between Tony's thighs, Steve dragged his tongue down his perineum, where the flavors were muskier, a little dirtier. "Want to see another one?"
Deciding to take that as a yes, Steve let his mouth slide lower. It wasn't always the nicest act, but he loved it anyway. There was something amazing about feeling Tony's muscles tremble against his lips, the stretch and flutter as Steve's tongue slid over his sphincter. Tony's thigh flexed in his hand, squeezing, trying to lift himself higher. The ring of muscle stretched slowly around Steve's tongue, but Steve wasn't in a rush, anyway. Little dips and twists, massaging it open until Tony's hips rocked into him.
A stream of creative blasphemy flowed from Tony's mouth starting small with the Lord's name and working up to loud declarations of holy sex acts. Every roll of Tony's hips made Steve ache, heat twisting in his stomach. He'd wanted it, missed it, even after ten years. His cock pressed against the front of his trousers, heavy with want, but Steve only gave himself a few jerks to ease the ache down to something more bearable.
Steve pushed it as long as he dared, until Tony's balls were drawn tight and there was a very real chance he'd go off before Steve had a chance to do anything else to him. He hadn't waited ten years just for Tony to lose it that fast.
He left Tony in a puddled heap on the edge of the bed while getting condoms and lube from the bedside table. Dropping them to the bed, he started to strip. Exactly one tuxedo was all he had, and he didn't think he'd be able to look the dry cleaner in the eye if there were stains on it. Tiny buttons popped free under his fingers, a drift of cold air making his skin tighten.
Tony watched appreciatively, propped up on his elbows, pupils blown so wide it made his eyes look darker. The tuxedo shirt spread around him on the bed, a white splash of color against the dark-striped coverlet. "Damn, the gym works miracles."
Steve had gotten through most of everything else, but the honest appreciation in Tony's voice made him swallow. It had been ages since he'd really dated anyone and even longer since he'd had sex with someone. Unconsciously, he slowed down in shrugging his shirt off. Belt, shoes, and socks dropped into their own pile, leaving just the trousers. Locking eyes with Tony, Steve slowly opened the fly and pushed them down his hips.
The tip of a pink tongue darted out as Tony licked his lips. "Jesus, you're hot. When did you get this hot? How did I miss that? Come here."
Climbing up on the bed, Steve straddled Tony's thighs. "Maybe that'll teach you to change your number on a guy," he murmured, running his thumb down Tony's dick. It was thick and dark, so hard it was almost painful-looking. For a second, just one, Steve was tempted to ignore the condom and just—but no, besotted didn't have to be the same as stupid. He'd already taken enough dumb risks not using a dam, and he should have known better.
Foil ripped without a struggle, and Tony let him roll the condom on with only a little roll of his hips. When Steve rubbed the lube to warm it, Tony smiled. "You're still the only person I know who does that."
Little steps, one by one, doing things right kept his hands steady, gave him the strength not to just push Tony back down and fuck him. Back in college, he'd never really adapted to one night at a time, taking what he could get, and then Tony was gone, and that had been that. Steve wasn't going to make that mistake twice, but rushing wouldn't help anything.
As soon as it had lost its slight chill, Steve wrapped his hand around Tony's cock, smoothing it on thickly as he moved up Tony's hips. Cold air prickled his skin where lube brushed over it in a slick trail. One hand on Tony's cock and the other on his chest for balance, Steve lowered himself down. The burn was more than usual, a stretching pain that made Steve groan even when it made his cock throb. Once the first push was through it got easier, his body remembering that this was how to open up, and those were the muscles to relax, until he'd reached bottom and had to pause for breath.
Tony's hands massaged his hips, calluses scratching against Steve's skin. "You okay?" he asked quietly, rubbing circles with his thumbs.
A nod and a muttered yeah under his breath was the best Steve could do. Canting forward, he rocked his hips, letting the motion loosen him a little more, until the glide was smooth and easy. Good, so good, feeling Tony's cock again, spreading him out and filling him up. Not just any dick, not even just any prostitute, but Tony.
He rolled himself down and then back up, finding a rhythm and a speed that was perfect. Tony seemed to agree, cursing again, his hips rising occasionally to meet Steve's movements, awkward without any leverage. Sweat pooled in the hollow of Tony's stomach, little droplets running together until Steve wiped them away.
Muscles in his thighs ached, threatening to cramp the longer Steve rode him. His fists tightened in Tony's shirt as he leaned down for a kiss, messy and open-mouthed, lips sliding with every thrust. Somewhere, Steve had read that hookers didn't kiss, but Tony wasn't like the others, wasn't like anyone.
When Steve came, it was between one breath and the next, slamming into him and stealing every ounce of sense. He barely stopped himself from falling forward onto Tony, crying out as he spilled across his stomach.
With a ease of action that was so uniquely his own, Tony pushed Steve over onto his back, hips snapping as he fucked him through it. Steve opened his eyes just in time to see Tony's face twist, whole body going tense in orgasm.
They stayed like that, breathing, sweat chilling on their skin. Steve nuzzled kisses against Tony's neck, leaving bites in long trails that got him tired moans in answer. The condom discard wasn't the most graceful thing, but somehow they managed to move enough to get it tied off and put off to the side.
Soon enough, the stickiness got to be too much. Steve squirmed his way free, stumbling for the bathroom to get a washcloth. Turning on the hot water, Steve waited for it to warm up before running the cloth under it and wiping himself off, then rinsing it again for Tony.
In the mirror, Tony made one weak effort to drag himself upright. He ended up falling back again with a whumph. "I give up. Never moving again."
"Does that mean you'll stay the night?" Giving the cloth a squeeze to get out the excess water, Steve pitched it at Tony's chest. It missed and hit him in the shoulder. He flinched, but only slightly.
"Like you keep saying," Tony grinned, "it's your money."
Dadundadun. Dadundadun. Dundadundadadundadun—
Long years of practice allowed Tony to wake up just enough to recognize Pepper's ringtone and then snuggle back into the pillows without any hesitation. In this case, the pillow was actually a chest, and snuggling was wrapping himself around Steve like a python, but the principle held firm. Pepper would just call back again later or leave him an irate voicemail. It wasn't that often that Tony slept in, and he intended to enjoy it for all it was worth.
The sound of Pepper's imminent disapproval faded, then started again.
When his pillow moved, Tony tried to cling for a minute, but ultimately gave up and slid down into the mattress with a grunt. If Steve wanted to get a glass of water or pet a puppy or paint rainbows or whatever it was people like him got out of bed to do, so be it. Tony would be there waiting for him when he realized Tony was infinitely better than rainbows.
Steve didn't go far. At the very edge of consciousness, Tony heard him rummage around. It took two more renditions of Jaws before the bed dipped, and Steve's warm hip pressed against Tony's shoulder, jostling him.
"Tony," Steve hissed, in that weird, soft-but-loud voice people who weren't Pepper or Rhodey used when they were trying to wake someone. "Tony, your phone's ringing. It says—it says the name is 'the Boss'?"
Grunting his extreme lack of care, Tony rolled over and grabbed Steve's thigh, burying his face in it. No, not waking up. Pepper can't make me.
Another fade-out, and Jaws started up again. "Tony, I really think you should take this. They've been calling for a while."
Another nudge as the theme started building to a crescendo, then something cold pressed against his ear. Beep.
"Good morning, Tony," Pepper said, voice a quiet purr that he was almost positive she'd learned from that hot Russian intern.
Instinct took control. Tony flailed upright, grabbing the phone out of Steve's hand. Only a quick save from Steve kept him from panicking himself right off the edge of the bed. "Pep—Pep, hi, I can explain—"
"Do you have any—any idea the kind of mess you left me with?" she growled, audibly through clenched teeth. "This was the single most important thing the Foundation has done this year, and you blew it off. We had an awards ceremony—do you remember that? Recognizing community efforts for local schools?"
Tony swallowed and sank back against the headboard. "Yeah, I remember—"
"You should. That was your idea. Yours. And Eddie Basil, the president of the Student Global Network? Gave a speech that you weren't there to introduce her for. The donation call got half of our anticipated numbers because Rhodey's good, but he's not you."
That made Tony wince. Donations were important—beyond important, they were everything to a 501c. He rubbed his face, dragging his hand across his five o'clock shadow and then back up to shade his eyes from reality. "I know—I know I was there to work, and I'm sorry—"
"Whatever it was, it had better have been important." Something heavy slammed onto a desk, and Tony was incredibly glad that Pepper hadn't chosen the video option. Bad enough to have fucked her over, he didn't want to see her face. Because her face wouldn't match her voice, her face would be hurt, and Tony would rather picture her spitting nails than hiding her face in her hands. "It had better be, because you promised, Tony. You promised that this would work, that the Foundation was important to you and you wouldn't screw this up."
"It was, Pep," Tony said softly. "It was important, and I'll explain to you this afternoon, I promise. And I'll make it up to you. I'll work overtime this week; you know I hate that. And I'll call Eddie and make arrangements—I'll take care of everything."
A deep breath, and that was likely as close to a sniffle as Pepper was going to get. "Please, Tony. Don't screw this up any more. If you're going to flake out, tell me now."
"I won't. I said I'll handle it, and I will."
"I hope so." The phone disconnected, drawing another wince from Tony. Usually Pepper could be counted on to stay polite, even if the face of unabashed Tonyness.
Letting the phone drop to the bed, Tony collapsed forward, resting his face in his hands. "So much trouble. So much trouble." He was going to have to work his ass off for a week to make up for this. When he'd ducked out with Steve, he hadn't even remembered about the speakers or the donations or any of it. He'd just been focused on not letting Steve know that essentially everything he knew about Tony was a damned lie.
Molehill into a mountain, that was how Tony Stark rolled.
"Are you okay?" Steve's big, warm hand rubbed between bare Tony's shoulders, up and down and in little circles, like he was a colicky baby. "What happened? Was that your... employer?" The word had strong overtones of drug dealer and a slight hint of boyfriend I don't approve of and will listen sympathetically as you complain about him over Ben & Jerry's at four AM.
Pimp. Pepper as his pimp, that was what Steve was trying to say, with some diplomacy and a lot of completely justified assumptions.
A giggle shook Tony's shoulders. Not a laugh or even the ever-manly chuckle, but an outright, panicked and overwhelmed giggle. He let himself collapse sideways into Steve's chest, convulsing. Oh god I'm in so much trouble.
Steve ran his fingers through Tony's hair. "Tony?"
"No—no not that. Just the person who handles my schedule." And everything else about his life. "I kind of blew off work last night. It's fine. I'll take care of it."
Under Tony's ear, Steve's chest jumped with a sharp sound of disapproval. His hand moved from Tony's hair back to his shoulders, rubbing again. "I didn't get you in trouble, did I?"
"Not you. I'm the one who completely spaced it. It's fine." Steve's chest was really amazing, broad and firm and so padded with muscle that Tony had to work to feel his ribs under it all. And warm. Back when they'd first met, Steve had always been cold, bundled up to his ears even at seventy degrees. Now he radiated heat like a furnace. Tony tucked his arm around Steve's waist and sank into him, letting the Pepper-induced tension melt away. "I wasn't lying when I said it was important."
"I'm important?" The pleasure in Steve's voice took care of the last bit of tension. "You haven't seen me for ten years. And I'm just—another customer."
Tony snorted. "Keep telling yourself that. You're important, and I'll handle the fallout." And there was going to be a lot of fallout. Tony might think keeping Steve from finding out he was a lying sack of shit was important. Pepper was probably going to have a different definition of the word. One that didn't involve having incredibly hot sex with incredibly hot blonds.
Silence, except Steve's heartbeat against his ear, and Tony could just imagine his blush without needing to look up and see it. "If you're in trouble...." Steve took a breath, jostling Tony a little. "If you're in trouble, you could come stay with me?"
For a second, Tony went still, immediately running down a checklist in his head. Not drunk, not high, awake... No, Steve really had just said that. "Did you just ask me to move in with you?"
"...You're insane." Reluctantly, Tony peeled himself away from Steve's chest. Earnest was back in style on Steve's face. Jaw set, eyes sad, mouth just slightly soft with worry—if Tony were a better person, he'd have caved in like an undercooked soufflé. "You don't know me, Steve. I'm just some guy you used to pay for sex, and for all you know I could be a drug dealer or—or a murderer or some weird alien polymorph out for your DNA—thanks for that, by the way."
Muscles around Steve's jaw tightened. "I'm not an idiot, Tony. I know all of that."
Okay, there went that theory. "Then why would you ask me to live with you?"
"Because I like you." Tony opened his mouth, just in time to have Steve's palm press against it, just a little sticky with sweat and residues that needed more than a wet rag to get rid of. "Hush for a second and let me finish. I like what I know about you. I know that you're good company, and you're smart and good with mechanics, and you're a good guy who consistently undercharged me—shut up, I know prostitutes cost more than fifty dollars, especially for the stuff we did. And I know that unless you've changed more than I think, you're still too damned stubborn to accept help if I don't force it on you, so I'm forcing it. If you're still hooking ten years later, it's probably not because you choose to, and if you're in trouble, I want to help." Cautiously, he lifted his hand. "Okay, now you can talk."
"You're still insane—" Steve's face closed in, and his mouth opened. Tony lifted a finger in the air, shaking it. "Ah-ah-ah, no, my turn. Remember you said I could talk."
Still looking unhappy, Steve nodded. "I did."
The morning sunlight did something to his eyes, turning them from their usually plain blue to something clear and liquid and just damned pretty. Tony locked on to them, putting on his I'm A Serious CEO Saying Serious Things Face. It didn't work on anyone else, but Steve hadn't had enough exposure to develop an immunity, so there might be a chance. "I appreciate the offer. Really. But it's not needed."
"Are you sure?"
You could tell him the truth, an insidious little snake-like voice whispered in Tony's head. He was pretty sure it might be his conscience, which was weird, because if being the CEO of a multinational couldn't kill the damned thing, he didn't know what could. Tell him everything. He'll forgive you for lying back when you were a dumb kid, but you're an adult now.
Yeah, like doing the right thing ever helped. "I'm sure, Steve. Really, one hundred percent positive, absolutely and without a doubt sure. But if I do ever need help, I'll let you know."
"Promise?" The unhappiness lifted, just a little, but Steve still looked like he wanted to wrap Tony up in cotton. Which was fine, really; Tony had nothing against cotton. Just not then.
"I promise." Tony dragged his index finger over his heart. "And there's always those fifties from you, right?"
Steve finally smiled. "Right."
—previously undiscovered allergy to one of the ingredients in the shrimp cocktail—
Tony's concentration was entirely on bullshitting his way through an explanatory email when the coffee cup slammed down at his elbow. He jumped, almost falling backward in his chair as he tried to escape the attacking caffeine. It was in his least favorite mug, the one with the little chip on the edge and the handle that was just a tiny bit too small for comfort. Lovely manicured nails dug into the side, bending slightly from the pressure.
Following the arm up, Tony met Pepper's furious eyes with a sheepish smile. "Hi?"
"Explanation." Hair was falling into Pepper's eyes, falling loose from her usual neat coif, and he was almost positive that her makeup was the same as yesterday's, but touched up. Behind her, Rhodey had taken over the doorway, clearly playing a dual role as bodyguard and barricade. "Now."
He'd spent most of the morning trying to think of what to say, but staring into Pepper's face, all his delicately phrased words crumbled. "I was in the back room selling my body for fifty dollars, and then he took me home for more and I have a bite mark on my ass to prove it and I am so sorry."
Pepper's mouth hung open in shock. For a very real second, he thought she might throw hot coffee on him. "You—you skipped out—on—for—" The coffee shook with her hands, sloshing, and one of her nails cracked against the ceramic. "You said it was important!"
"It was, I swear—" Just in case, Tony rolled back away from the desk, so if Pepper did throw something, it wouldn't be at close range. "It was Steve! Rhodey, it was Steve, Steve Rogers, tell her that's important."
Rhodey, who'd been wisely silent, perked up. "Steve?" he asked, eyebrows knitted. "You mean—from college, Steve? Art student Steve?"
"Art student?" Pepper's grip on the coffee cup didn't ease as she turned her head to look at Rhodey, then back at Tony. "Are you saying that one of the people you prostituted yourself to at MIT found you last night? And for some reason you thought that having sex with him again was a good idea? I'm sorry, selling yourself to him again."
"It's not selling; it's a rental arrangement. And can you say that a little louder? I don't think Frank in Marketing heard you."
"Frank in Marketing isn't the one we need to worry about!" Thank God, Pepper let the coffee go to yank on her hair some more. She dropped down into one of the visitors chairs, elbows coming down hard on the glass desktop. "I know you like playing chicken with the tabloids, but this is more than just dating Britney Spears, Tony. This is bad. When this Steve guy goes to the papers—"
"That's not going to happen—"
"Of course it's going to happen—"
"It's not." Tony didn't usually snap at Pepper—he thought of her more as a friend than an employee, but he wasn't going to sit there and be lectured on life choices he already knew he'd screwed up on. "He doesn't know who I am, and it's going to stay that way." Even if Steve did figure it out, he wasn't the kind of guy who'd take it to market. Which was naïve and from anyone else would just be dumb to believe, but Steve wasn't like that.
"So you're not going to see him again?" Rhodey crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall.
Tony hesitated. It would have been the responsible thing to do. He'd gotten Steve's number, but he'd only told Steve his the one time. The chances of Steve remembering it weren't great. If he walked away, never looked back, Steve would probably still figure it out eventually, but Tony wouldn't have to be there to see it happen.
But Tony missed him. It had been nice to just roll around in the sheets and not worry about whether he was being used for the fame or gifts or a million dollar tabloid deal. It was sex. Paid sex, but money didn't really explain staying the night, or how Steve kissed him goodbye or any of the rest of it. And it was probably more than that to Steve, too, or he wouldn't have asked Tony to stay.
The money Steve had paid him burned a hole in his pocket—a five, five ones, two tens and a twenty, bills he'd been carrying for a decade, and wasn't that a trip?
"Tones." Rhodey's voice dragged him out of his thoughts. "You're not going to, right? Just walk away."
It was the responsible thing to do. "Yeah," Tony nodded, sinking back in his computer chair. "Yeah, I'm not going to see him again."
Steve's phone rang somewhere in the depths of his hip pocket while he struggled to pin back up a work in progress. Tucking the brush in his mouth, he kept his hand on the loose canvas to hold it while he fumbled in his jeans. A streak of red-orange—water-based, thank God—followed his thumb as he pressed the answer button. "Mmfg—Rogers."
"Hey, are you at home?" Tony's voice through a crackle of static. Behind him, a trunk horn blared and something splashed. "I was just calling to see if you've got some spare cash."
The paint brush fell out from between Steve's lips, and he nearly dropped the phone and the canvas both trying to catch it. "I—yeah, I've got money I can give you. When do you need it by—it's not that Pep person is it?" He balanced the phone between shoulder and ear to free up his hands. Very carefully he stretched out the canvas again and re-pinned it. Wet paint had smeared in places from the fall, but it wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed. Acrylics weren't as bad as oils when it came to that. "That offer still stands, if you need to get away."
Tony didn't say anything at first. Enough time passed that Steve worried that he'd said something wrong. Then Tony let out a snicker that cascaded into open laughter.
"I don't need money, Steve. I was asking if you want to have sex," Tony explained between chuckles, his voice barely audible over the sound of traffic and bad weather. "But thanks for the thought all the same."
A flush of heat curled through Steve's stomach. It had only been a few days since he'd kissed Tony goodbye, but it felt like much longer. Easy, Rogers. Don't expect too much. Letting his hopes get the better of him had just hurt last time.
Loving Tony wasn't an easy habit to break, though. In ten years, he hadn't really managed it. "Yeah, I think I can spare some cash."
"Great." Tony's grin was audible, a bounce in his voice that made Steve smile automatically. "Buzz me in—it's pouring out here."
"So, you're Steve Rogers."
Steve looked over his shoulder, brush still lifted from its upstroke. Behind him, a tall black man stood waiting, hands shoved into his jean pockets. Military, or ex-military, Steve could tell just from the way he stood, a second away from saluting. Carefully, he put down his brush and turned from the wall, offering his hand for a shake. "Yes, I am. Can I help you?"
He looked Steve up and down before taking his hand in a firm grip. It wasn't too strong though, which was good to know. A lot of guys tried to macho it up when they saw how big Steve was, and he didn't want to get into some sort of contest with a stranger. "I think you can," the man said, letting go of Steve's hand. "I'm a friend of Tony's."
Tony. "A friend, or a 'friend'?" Steve tried to put verbal quotes around the word. His helpers were busy farther up the mural, filling in base colors, but he didn't want any gossip. They were new people for this project, and it didn't take much to get the grapevine going.
He snorted. "Just a friend. I was his roommate in college."
It took Steve a second of thought to remember the things Tony had told him. It wasn't much—Tony was understandably a private person, and Steve had never pried. "Rhodey, right? You were always texting to check on him."
Rhodey actually smiled. "Someone had to."
"I guess you could say that," Steve nodded, looking down at his feet nervously. He'd never met anyone from Tony's real life, and he didn't know what he'd expected, but a military man in pressed jeans hadn't been it. "So I guess this is where you tell me to stay away from him, right?"
"Unless you can give me a good reason not to."
People bustled around, hurrying to get the work done before the weekend was gone. None of them looked like they had any clue what was going on. Steve wondered if Rhodey was doing this for Tony, or for Pep, then wondered if it mattered. "I wish I could."
"That so?" Rhodey's eyebrows lifted and his arms crossed. All of a sudden he looked bigger, straight-spine military bearing lifting up, until it was clear that he was nearly Steve's height. "You know how much Tony's risking for you, right?"
For Tony, then. That came as a relief. If even Tony's best friend was on Pep's side, then Steve didn't have much hope. "I can guess. But that's Tony's decision to make, not yours, not mine."
Someone nearly jostled Rhodey from behind, but he stepped forward just in time to avoid being bumped. It brought him right up into Steve's face. "Tony doesn't have a history of making good decisions," he said, voice low. "Do him a favor and don't be another mistake."
Muscles tightened along Steve's back and his heart picked up. He didn't think Rhodey was there to threaten him, but he'd been bullied too much as a kid not to react. "I understand why you're doing this," he replied in the same tone, "but I'm not the mistake you need to worry about."
Dark eyes held his before Rhodey nodded and stepped back. "I'd like to believe you, but Tony's been messed up too many times by people that said they wouldn't. You get me?"
"If I hurt him, you can come back here and kick my ass." Steve reached into his pocket and pulled out a card, handing it over. "I'll have earned it."
"Good to see we're on the same page." Rhodey accepted the card without looking at it, slipping it immediately into his back pocket. He looked up at the mural, taking in the vines of flowers and sprays of sunshine winding through the whole thing. "Well, I won't keep you. Just remember what I said, and we'll be good." With a nod, he turned and walked away.
The curtains were drawn, leaving the entire penthouse in darkness. He'd dressed for camouflage, in a dark grey button-up and darker pants, holding his shoes in his hand to minimize squeaking. Keeping low, Tony leaned around the bend of the stairwell, glancing both directions and up before easing out of the shadows and into the open, making for the door at a fast trot.
He'd been down in the labs when he'd gotten Steve's text, and had been so excited that he'd burned himself leaning over a hot engine. The forming blister on his stomach didn't look like it would be that big, but every little movement tugged at it. Lab accidents usually netted him worse, but it was the first time he'd done something so dumb.
Not that near death by stupidity had stopped him from accepting immediately. He'd just had to do it while slathering burn ointment on his nipples.
JARVIS had been sworn to secrecy, using the override protocols Tony had put it precisely so he could sneak out of the house. Dummy wasn't artificially intelligent enough to tattle, but he'd been docked for repairs for the evening. That left only one being who could get in his way.
Tony reached the door and dashed toward the exit elevator, socked feet shuffling on the rug. Almost there, almost...
Just as he reached the door, the elevator dinged open.
"Going somewhere?" Pepper had her arms crossed and her briefcase at her feet, still dressed for the business dinner he'd sent her on.
Like a rabbit coming face to face with a wolf, Tony froze, a thousand panicked excuses tripping¬ through his head at once. "Pep—Pepper! I was just—going for a walk. In the rain." As soon as he said it, Tony knew exactly how stupid that answer was, but once started it was too late to back out. "I love the rain—don't you like the rain? It's so... wet and... wet."
"A walk, hm?" With what had to be a carefully practiced lack of melodrama, Pepper pulled out her phone and checked it. "Not dinner, then?"
Being the sterling intellect that he was, Tony immediately leaped upon the most important aspect of this. "Did you intercept my text messages?"
"Of course I did. How else am I supposed to keep up with your schedule when you never tell me things?" She didn't look away from her phone, pointedly scrolling through with her thumb. When her eyebrows lifted, Tony winced. "You might want to make sure you have a spotter for that one, you're not that flexible."
"Look, Pep, I can—"
"No, Tony. You don't need to." Sighing, Pepper clicked her phone off and slipped it in her purse. Then she picked up her briefcase and strode past. "Do what you want. I give up."
"What?" The amount of not processing that took up was equal to a blue screen of death. Tony pivoted to keep his eyes on Pepper's back. "Why? How? Who?"
"When and where come next." Still not looking at him, Pepper paused by her usual table and started sorting papers onto it. "Because if you've ignored both Rhodey and I over something so obviously risky, you're obviously not going to stop. Rather than having you sneak around behind my back, I'm just not going to argue. Be smart, be safe, and for God's sake don't let there be a sex tape."
"Sex in front of video cameras creeps Steve out."
"Thank God for little blessings." Pepper finished fanning out whatever it was she needed him to look at and finally turned. "Just keep it from hitting the papers and I won't say a word. Deal?"
Impulsively, Tony left the elevator and wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug. "Thanks, Pepper."
Gently, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged back, nails scratching the back of his neck lightly. "You're welcome. Now get going, you have a dinner engagement."
Cooking was not one of Steve's talents, as it turned out. He tried, and he could manage plain things if he followed the directions to the letter, usually. Finicky foods, or anything that took more than three pans to make were beyond him.
As it turned out, a surprising amount of food was finicky or took more than three pans. After filling the kitchen with smoke he had to throw out everything and order out. Luckily, there was a Italian place just a few streets away that would deliver.
Three weeks of meeting every few days had taken a toll on Steve's wallet, but not too badly. The illustrations he'd just finished had been a good deal, and Tony barely charged a pittance compared to what Steve suspected he could have asked for. If Tony hadn't been so stubbornly insistent on not needing help, Steve probably would have asked him to move in again and paid him a salary. Then Tony could call-block Pep, and Steve wouldn't have to listen to him scramble for excuses at least once a week.
Whoever Pep was, Steve didn't like him. Most of the calls sounded pleasant, but it was obvious that he had a firm hold on Tony's life. The calls were always full of appointments and schedules, demands to know where Tony was and who he was with. It was worrying, that someone should have so much control over Tony, but whenever Steve said so Tony just blew him off. He didn't see any problem with Pep threatening to put a GPS tracker on him, but for Steve, it had been the last straw. Tony obviously couldn't see how deep in it he was, but Steve could, and he wasn't going to let Tony get hurt just because he didn't want to cause a scene.
Hopefully, a nice dinner and something quiet would make for a good time to ask Tony to stay again. Even if Tony said no, Steve wasn't going to let up. He cared too much not to at least make sure the door was open if Tony ever wanted to use it.
Steve was just laying out the food on serving plates when someone knocked. Frowning, Steve went to open the door, using his elbow to trip the lock and jiggle it open while transferring the lasagna from its Styrofoam container. As soon as the door swung open, Tony pounced, pushing the lasagna out of the way. Steve's back hit the wall, elbow knocking painfully as Tony's mouth covered his. One of Tony's feet kicked off to the side, knocking into the door and pushing it closed.
The kiss dragged on, tongues sliding against one another, desperation sharp and palpable. Clever fingers tugged at Steve's shirt, pulling it out of his slacks. He let Tony have his way right up until his hands slid down to Steve's fly. Then he pulled away, head smacking against the wall.
"You didn't buzz in," he gasped, short of breath and already feeling overheated.
"Someone else was leaving, I just caught the door," Tony grinned, popping the button on Steve's pants.
"Dinner—we have dinner," Steve protested half-heartedly, tilting his hips away. His arms were starting to ache, but not half as much as his cock.
Tony reached around and took first the loaded container, then the half full serving tray. He only moved away from Steve's body enough to set them on a table. Then he blocked him back in, hands clenched in Steve's collar. "It can wait."
A twist of the hips was all Steve needed to flip their positions. His knee slid between Tony's thighs, pinning him in place against the wall. He nipped at Tony's lips, fingers flying over the buttons of his slate grey shirt. As soon as he had an opening, he spread it open, fingers running along the skin it revealed.
Unexpectedly, Tony hissed between his teeth and flinched back. Steve went still, horror cooling his ardor. He started yanking at Tony's shirt, lifting it up, all thoughts of sex gone.
"Steve, no," Tony protested, pushing at his shoulders. "It's fine, don't worry about it—"
Steve ignored him, peeling up Tony's shirt. When he saw the bright red burn across Tony's stomach, his jaw tightened. It looked like someone had touched him with the point of a hot iron, the edges well-defined and already starting to blister. He pressed his thumb along the healthy skin under the burn. "What happened?" Steve asked, distantly surprised by how hard his voice was.
Tony yanked his shirt out of Steve's hands and down, covering up the burn. "It was an accident, and it's fine. I get worse all the time."
Worse all the time. Anger and fear rose hot in Steve's throat. He made himself take a slow breath before his emotions got the better of him. Tony wouldn't tell him who did it, and it wouldn't do any good anyway. Even if he found this one, there'd be another, and another after that.
"You should put something on it," he finally forced out, looking up. "I'll finish setting out dinner."
"Steve, don't be like this." Tony had his lip between his teeth, but everything else was blank—a professional expression, like some banker or CEO giving out bad news. Steve hated it, hated how it shut him out, hated whatever had made Tony put it on. "It's fine, it doesn't need anything."
"For me? Please?" Steve's fingers curled in Tony's shirt, gripping tight to keep from clenching into fists. "There's stuff in the bathroom cabinet, it won't take you a minute."
At first, he thought Tony would argue, but after a few seconds of staring he sighed and leaned back against the wall. "Okay, okay, let me go and I'll do it. Not that I need to, but if it makes you happy."
Unknotting his hands was hard. Steve thought he'd break a finger before he managed to let go of Tony's shirt. A kiss sweetened the deal, though, and was enough to make the last little bit of cloth come free almost easily. Tony grinned too wide and kissed him again before slipping past Steve and vanishing into the bathroom.
Steve pressed his forehead against the wall and closed his eyes, listening as Tony rummaged around in his cabinet.
Something had to change.
"I can't believe you're paying me to eat lunch with you," Tony griped, taking a poke at the remainder of his panini. Steve had insisted that for once, Tony would be getting sunshine and real food. The resultant argument had nearly led back into sex, but restraint was one of the virtues Steve cultivated. "You have the weirdest fetishes, Rogers."
"It's my money." That had become a stock phrase that got a lot of use. Steve used his fork to poke Tony's salad closer to him. "You look like you miss every other meal. Eat."
"I just forget to eat. I get busy, and it happens. I'm not starving." But Tony picked up his fork and took a bite anyway, looking at Steve for approval.
At exactly twelve forty-five, the alarm on Tony's phone beeped. He glanced at it and made a face before folding his napkin. "And I've got to go. I'm supposed to meet Pep, and then I've got a one-thirty, and I'll never hear the end of it if I'm late."
Under the table, Steve bumped Tony with his ankle. One last try. "Are you sure?"
"I'll be fine. You worry more than my mother ever did." Tony squeezed Steve's hand and pocketed the fifty Steve still insisted on giving him, hoping he'd put it aside for a rainy day. "Give me a call; maybe we can do something tonight."
"Yeah." Steve squeezed back, then let Tony go. If they'd been back at his apartment, he would have given him a kiss, but he didn't want to cause a scene. He wasn't worried about himself, but if something happened and the police were called, he didn't know what might be on Tony's record. "I'll do that. You get going—I don't want you in trouble."
Tony grinned and gave him a wave. "Catch you later."
Steve waited until Tony was on the corner hailing a cab before throwing a wad of money down on the table and making for his bike. It was one of the smaller ones, made for speed and agility, which made it perfect for New York traffic. Within a couple of minutes, he had his helmet on and was on his way, six cars back from the cab Tony had climbed into.
Traffic started fairly smooth, but got thick as the cab headed straight for the office buildings and skyscrapers of downtown. Steve stayed in the middle lane, expecting the cab to turn at any second. It kept its course, and discharged Tony a half-hour later in front of one of the glass and steel masterpieces of the business district.
Parking was predictably terrible and one of the many reasons why Steve never took his bike downtown if he could help it. By the time he'd found a place to leave his bike where it wouldn't get run over or stolen, it was already a quarter to two, and Steve just had to hope that Pep and Tony hadn't left.
Inside the building was as starkly intimidating as the outside, but it was also familiar. The Maria Stark Foundation had its offices on a couple of the top floors, and the business arm of Stark Industries took up the ones above it. Steve studied the directory with bewilderment. Why would a pimp work out of an office building? Maybe it was an escort service? None of the listed businesses seemed like that, but there were enough generic names that Steve wouldn't have sworn to it.
Or maybe it was just a place to meet. One of Tony's clients could work there. Maybe even the one he'd been at the award ceremony for, or the one who burned him.
Without many other options, Steve took the elevator to the twenty-sixth floor—the Maria Stark Foundation. When he'd been there last, they'd been nice and helpful, and maybe they'd recognize a description of Tony. He was handsome enough that someone might remember seeing him, and it would be a lead.
Unlike when he'd been there last, the floor wasn't teeming with artists and contractors and businesspeople who were eager to get good works down on their resumes. There was only one person, actually—a petite redhead behind the main desk. Her suit looked like it walked off a runway, perfectly tailored in a crisp blue-green. Steve didn't have any experience with couture, but he had a feeling he was in its presence.
The redhead looked up from her tablet expectantly as Steve approached, smiling with that professional edge that no one ever actually meant. "Yes, can I help you?"
"I'm actually looking for someone. I know he's in the building, but I don't know which floor. I was wondering if you might be able to point me in the right direction?" Steve smiled hopefully, twiddling his thumbs with anxiety.
The woman laughed, posture relaxing subtly. "I think I can try. What's their name?"
"Um—Pep or Tony? I'm sorry, I don't know their last names." Her eyebrows went up, and Steve felt his heart drop. "Tony's about a few inches shorter than me. Kind of thin with dark hair, a goatee and blue eyes? Really good looking? And Pep's his—boss, I guess. I never met him... "The longer he talked, the more her face closed in, smile vanishing, jaw going tense.
Steve took a step back, shoulders drooping. She wasn't going to help, and probably thought he was an idiot for trying. "You know, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be wasting your time—"
"No, wait." Still not smiling, she leaned forward and locked her hands. "I think I know who you're looking for. What I don't know is why."
He stopped backing up. "You know them? Can you tell me where they are? Please?" Was it some sort of conspiracy? A ring of illegal prostitution disguised as a charity? Whatever was going on, it paid better than he'd ever dreamed.
She nodded, eyes scanning up and down him, obviously noting the bike leathers and his less-than-designer jeans. "First, tell me why you want to see them."
"Then so is their location." She straightened up and reached for the phone, dialing a five-digit number. "I'll call security to escort you—"
Steve dashed for the desk, slamming his thumb down on the phone-lift. A glare that could have melted the polar caps skewered him, but Steve held firm. "Wait—please? Just tell me where I can find them. That's all I want."
She didn't pick her hand up from the dial pad. "Mr. Rogers, you're demanding to know the location of specific individuals whose whereabouts are sensitive and protected information. Unless you can give me something more, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Chills curled around Steve's chest, threatening a shortness of breath like the asthma attacks he still had occasionally. "I didn't tell you my name."
The secretary froze, closing her eyes with an acidic curse. "Alright, let's do this the hard way." Slowly, she put the phone back on the hook and leaned back in her chair. "I'm Pep—Pepper Potts.
"You're Tony's pimp?" The words blurted out before Steve's brain had a chance to work as a filter.
Her smile tinkled with ice. "No, but you're hardly the first person to call me that. I expected to see you weeks ago, Mr. Rogers. You're slow on the draw." She leaned forward, one of her fashionably chunky necklaces chiming as it knocked against the desktop. "If you want to see Tony, you have to go through me."
That was unexpected, Steve thought, a bit fuzzily. When he'd made his plans to confront Tony's manager, he'd pretty much expected to be arguing with someone built like a brick wall, maybe with tattoos and piercings, or a sleazy guy in a nice suit with other people to be muscle for him. An attractive woman sitting behind a desk hadn't even crossed his mind. "No—no, that's alright. I came to see you."
"Me?" Pepper's lips turned down into a sharp frown. "Whatever you want, you're not going to get it, so I advise you to leave. Walk away, remove Tony from your contacts list, and forget any of it ever happened."
"No." Planting his hands on the smooth black desk, Steve met her eyes. "I need you to let Tony go."
She actually laughed in shock, covering her mouth politely. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me." Steve forced himself to take slow, even breaths. Anxiety twisted in his stomach, threatening his lunch. Confrontation didn't come naturally to him. He could hold his own, but he'd always tried the peaceful way first. Deliberately walking into the office of someone who could be dangerous was just plain nerve-wracking. "If he owes you money or something, I'll pay it. If it's something else, I'll take care of it. But I want you to leave him alone."
The hard, aggressive line of her mouth faded. "You really don't know, do you?" she asked softly, tilting her head to the side. "I thought for sure you—God damn it, Tony, why do you always leave the hard parts to me?"
"What?" Steve asked, bewildered by her sudden about-face.
"Why are you doing this?" Everything about her demeanor had changed. If he hadn't seen it, Steve never would have known she was anything but a concerned friend. "Just—tell me. Is it the thrill of the illicit? Because he's good in bed? Or do you just want him for yourself?"
"I—" A blush rose in Steve's cheeks. He licked his lips, not sure how much to say. Just because she wasn't what he'd expected didn't mean she wasn't dangerous. But there wouldn't be any use in lying. "I love him, and I want him to be safe. That's all."
"And if he doesn't love you?" Pepper's voice stayed steady. "Mr. Rogers, Tony is in high demand. If I—" Her lips twitched. "If I let him go, he could do anything he wants. Be with whoever he wants. What if that's not you?"
Just the thought made Steve's heart break a little. From the start he'd known that whatever reason Tony had for being with him, it wasn't because he cared the way Steve did. Or, apparently, for the money, unless Pepper was keeping it all for things like Manolo Blahniks and ritzy offices. "As long as he's happy and safe. That's all that matters. If he's happy with you, then—" Steve swallowed back a taste of acid in the back of his throat. "Then that's fine. I'll go away. But I need to know first."
For a second, she stared at him, and Steve had a feeling he was being sized up, weighed, and judged. Eventually, Pepper pushed to her feet—standing, she was taller than he thought, but then she stepped out from behind the desk and he saw her shoes. Five extra inches would make almost anyone tall. "Come with me. I want to show you something."
Curious and completely lost, Steve followed her back into the maze of offices and glass-enclosed boardrooms that made up the building. Everyone they passed was dressed like her—expensively—and the longer they walked, the more out of place Steve felt. He'd thought he was doing good being able to afford a decent apartment in a safe neighborhood, but even the man carting around a tray of coffee to different offices had a Gucci watch.
Pepper took him all the way to the southwest side of the building, where an elegant boardroom took up the entire corner. Thick glass windows lined the hall, the blinds raised so passing people could see everything that happened. An older woman in a suit was giving a presentation, but Steve barely glanced at the charts. His attention locked on the man at the very end of the table, heels kicked up and playing with his phone.
Tony had switched out of his t-shirt and jeans and into a business suit and tie. Surrounded by other people dressed just like him, he looked perfectly at home, a fish cozy in his fishtank. He also looked ridiculously young; the next oldest person in the room could have been his father, and there wasn't a single other person without gray hair. Every few seconds, Tony would glance up at the display, then back down at whatever he was doing on his phone, only giving it half of his attention.
"That's Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Industries and chair of the Maria Stark Foundation," Pepper said behind him in a gentle, soothing tone. "One of the richest men in the world and supposedly the fourth smartest. I'm not his pimp, I'm his personal assistant."
"I didn't know." Steve's hand touched the cool glass, leaving a streak behind. Dimly, he thought he should have been angry or hurt, but there wasn't anything to feel, just a slow, seeping nausea building in his stomach. I really didn't know anything about him. "I—he didn't tell me, I just assumed..."
"I know. Tony can be—" Pepper made a frustrated sound, and Steve nodded, understanding exactly what she meant to say. "But he means well. He wouldn't have intended to hurt you."
"Why are you telling me this? Aren't I a liability?" Steve turned toward Pepper, elbow bumping the glass on accident. It hadn't sounded loud to Steve, but Tony's head lifted, expression going from boredom to a rictus of horror. His mouth framed a word, inaudible but obvious.
Legs went to work before Steve's head mind even finished cursing. Turning, he bolted down the hall.
As soon as Tony saw Steve, the bottom dropped out of his world. He scrambled to his feet, nearly leaping over his chair. Pepper barely missed being run over as he threw open the door, just in time to see Steve's back vanish around a corner.
Distantly, Tony was grateful that Pepper and Rhodey insisted he get in gym time. For an asthmatic, Steve was fast. It was everything Tony could do to keep him in sight. People shouted and careened into walls as he shoved past them, barreling through any obstacle that happened to get between him and Steve. Someone too quick on their feet for their own good flashed a picture.
This is going to be in the Enquirer tomorrow.
He was still a good two hundred feet back when Steve darted past the receptionist's desk at full tilt, diving at the elevator and pounding at the buttons. It dinged open cheerfully, and Steve scrambled in, slapping at the controls.
He's getting away he's getting away he's getting away—
Putting on a burst of speed he didn't know he had in him, Tony surged past the desk and threw himself forward, sliding into the elevator just as it closed. Muscles screamed in pain, and his shoulder knocked painfully against the floor. Tony forced himself to get to his feet, pulling his access card and swiping it through the security panel. Buttons flashed red as the override sunk in, the elevator jolting as it switched from down to up.
"We—" Tony panted, sagging against the wall, "—are going to talk."
"What's there to talk about?" Steve demanded, and it really, really wasn't fair that he barely sounded winded. Asthmatic, sure. "You lied to me."
"I didn't lie, I just didn't correct you!" There were handrails along the walls of the elevator. Tony used them to haul himself upright. If he were going to defend the last remaining scraps of his honor, he'd rather not do it while shredding the last remaining scraps of his dignity. "I never told you my last name!"
"You let me think you were a hooker!" Steve had figured out something was up. He kept thumbing the button for the ground floor, which the elevator dutifully ignored. When Tony used his override, it only had two stops, and Tony's office was the closest.
"Technically, I am—I took the money, didn't I?" The constant button-pressing was getting on Tony's nerves. He edged himself in front of the panel, so Steve had a choice between giving up and pressing Tony's belly button. "Look, let's go to my office. I'll explain, and then you can hit me or something, whatever makes you feel better."
Instead of backing up like Tony mostly expected, Steve crossed his arms and loomed. The impressively square jaw that Tony had spent more than a few weeks envying tightened with superhero-like determination. "I'm not going to hit you—what kind of man do you think I am? I just want answers."
"And you'll get them." The door slid open with a special little chord that Tony had programmed in to remind him even at his drunkest that he was at work. He took a slow step back to keep his balance but didn't get out of the doorway. "Let's just go to my office, and I'll tell you everything you want to know. Just..." Tony's voice caught embarrassingly. "Just give me a chance. Please. One shot."
Steve looked at Tony, then at the controls, and Tony knew, just knew that he was thinking about pushing Tony out of the elevator and pressing the close door button. "Tell me one thing, and I'll go with you. You owe me that much."
Tony could feel Mrs. Arbogast staring at his back and sent up a quiet prayer of thanks that he'd made all of his personal employees sign more confidentiality agreements than the Secret Service. "Anything."
"Why did you lie? Was it some sick joke?" Some of the heat left Steve's eyes, to be replaced by a suspiciously damp shine. Tony hadn't know it was possible to feel like so much of a heel, and he'd pretty much made it his adolescent life's work to be as much of a pain in the ass as possible. "Something to sit around and laughed about with your rich friends? Was I a game to you?"
"No!" Tony protested automatically, then winced. Claiming again that he didn't lie was tempting, but one look at Steve's face threw that idea screaming out the window. The whole truth and nothing but the truth, God help me. "I lied because I thought that if you knew the truth, you'd walk away and I'd never see you again, and I swear, Steve, that's all. The only other people who knew were Rhodey and Pepper, and I told them it was just the once."
For a second, he didn't think Steve would believe him. He held himself still and quiet, staring at Tony the way Pepper looked at strawberry cheesecake, wanting to believe that it would be good and knowing that it would land her in the hospital if she gave in. Finally, his head jerked in a curt nod, and Tony eased aside to let him through, still keeping his body between the elevator doors.
Mrs. Arbogast watched with special interest as Tony led Steve toward his office, walking backwards to keep him in sight. "Bambi, don't let anyone disturb us," Tony ordered, hoping that just once people would listen to him. Pepper had them all trained to do what was best for Tony, and damn what Tony thought was best for Tony. Which normally worked out pretty well, but not this time. "Anyone. I don't care if Queen Elizabeth, the President and the Pope all pop in for tea and a singalong, got it?"
"Of course, Mr. Stark," she chirped in her best placating the boss voice, and the little nugget of hope vanished. Maybe no one will interrupt.
Tony's office was exactly the opposite of what he'd planned on when he'd been a kid. For one, there was a distinct lack of dinosaurs (other than the one by the computer, but that had been a gag gift from Rhodey when he'd first taken the space over, and anyway a three inch tall plastic Brontosaurus barely counted) and way more paperwork than anticipated. Meaning, roughly, that there was paperwork. It was all polished steel and glass and shiny pieces of artwork that were supposed to be thought-provoking but were mostly things to throw the paperwork at. He pretty much hated it, but it was quiet and didn't have people with camera phones hiding behind the water cooler.
Steve took a seat on the black leather couch, hovering right on the edge while Tony poured himself a glass of courage from the cabinet. After a glance at Steve, he poured a second, figuring that if Steve didn't stay to drink it, Tony would need to, so it all worked out anyway.
It said something that Steve took the drink without protest, slugging back a mouthful. Tony took a seat opposite him on the simple but exquisitely expensive coffee table. The liquor did its work, rounding out Steve's shoulders and easing the anger from his frame. Unfortunately, what replaced it was a sort of kicked puppy hurt that Tony had no idea how to deal with.
"Okay," Steve said after a minute, cradling his brandy with both hands. "Want to tell me what this is all about?"
"No," Tony grimaced down at his brandy. Steve's eyes flashed back up at him and Tony held up a hand placatingly. "No, I don't want to tell you, but I will. Jesus, relax. I didn't bring you up here to dick around, you know."
"How am I supposed to know that?" Steve's knees bumped Tony's as he leaned forward into Tony's space. "Everything I know about you is a lie."
"Whoa—whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a minute there. The only thing I lied about was my name and job. Everything else was honest."
"How do I—"
"Will you let me explain before you fly off the handle?" Tony snapped, and it seemed to penetrate Steve's anger. His eyes flashed wide, and he jerked back. "I'm not saying I don't deserve it—believe me, I know I do—but at least hear me out."
Steve was tense again, the liquor not able to stand up against his anger—his completely righteous and justified anger, don't forget that—at Tony. Leather squeaked as he slid back into the couch and drained down his brandy. "Talk."
Following orders had never been one of Tony's strong suits, but he swallowed back his objections. "Okay. Talking—talking now. Starting at the top." Always a good place to start, that was usually where Rhodey told him to start. Everything made more sense with the background anyway. "I was a dumb kid—dumber than your usual level of fratboy idiot, but what do you expect, I was seventeen—"
"Seventeen?" The empty glass dropped from Steve's hand, only a quick grab saving it from inevitable collision with the floor. "You were seventeen?"
Maybe starting at the beginning was a bad idea after all. "I said I was dumb, alright?" Probably the worst excuse in the world, but at least it was the truth. "And you didn't know, so don't go feeling guilty. I was young and stupid and I thought it was an easy way to make some cash when my parents cut me off."
Steve's mouth worked without making any noise. Slowly he lowered his face into his hands, clearly at a loss for words. It was actually better than Tony was expecting. At least he could talk through horrified silence.
"So I kept my last name to myself," Tony barreled on. "Not because of any forward thinking, but if my parents found out I was hooking, I'd have been dragged back to New York so fast my ass would have had rug burns. It wasn't bad at first, and then I met you, and it got better, and I..." I kind of fell a lot in love with you. "I liked you—like you, present tense, and I was afraid that if I told you the truth, you'd hate me."
"The call that night." Steve didn't pull his face from his hands, so his voice was muffled, strained with emotion. "Was that a set up? A way out so you didn't have to tell me?"
Something curled up in Tony's chest and sank its teeth in. "No. That was real." Since there was still brandy in his glass, Tony tossed it back, then closed his eyes and focused on the burn of it instead of the burn of loss. "My parents were in a car crash that night, and I had to go home to take care of the funeral. MIT agreed to let me finish my degrees from New York, so I just—I never went back."
Red-rimmed blue eyes peeked up from behind Steve's fingers. He looked stricken. "Tony, I'm... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."
"It was a fair question." More liquor called from the cabinet, but judging from the way his eyes burned, another glass was going to turn Tony into a wreck. Very sexy, Stark, work that tragedy, baby. "So you know the rest. I ran into you, freaked out on a scale equivalent to an alien invasion, and here we are."
"I was worried about you." Tired. Steve sounded tired, which was a step up—or down, maybe, Tony wasn't really sure about emotional directions—from ready to walk out the door. "I thought you'd gotten caught up in some weird prostitution ring or—or maybe drugs or blackmail. It never occurred to you to just tell me the truth?"
"A lot of times." Looking downward, Tony fiddled with his glass. "I'd think, this is it, he's going to find out eventually, I should just spit it out. But..." But then Steve would smile or kiss him or drag Tony to a movie theater, and they'd neck in the back like horny teenagers, and Tony couldn't have risked losing even one more day of it, not even if it brought the whole world down around his ears. "I just couldn't."
Fidgety, nervous silence followed, both of them lost in their own thoughts. At least, Tony assumed Steve was thinking. He might have been mentally humming along to show tunes for all Tony could tell.
"Do you still want to leave?" Tony asked into the silence. "If you want to walk out, I won't stop you again." Pining would definitely be in order, and a date or ten with a Mr. Jack Daniels if Tony knew himself as well as he thought he did, but he wouldn't stop Steve from leaving.
"What happened to the money?" Steve didn't look at him. "Is there a piggy bank somewhere? Tips or cab fare?"
Tony blinked in confusion. "I donated it for you. There's a shelter—women's shelter, they help a lot of street walkers with nowhere else to go. I thought you might like that." Which was going to be trouble if Steve wanted a refund—the only cash Tony had on him was that first fifty that he hadn't been able to bring himself to let go of.
Steve looked up, surprise written across his face. "Really?"
"Yeah—I kept the receipts if you want them. There's enough that it might be worth putting on your taxes, get a deduction."
Slow blinks, and then Steve laughed and it was like the sun coming out again after doomsday. He ran his fingers through his hair and smiled. "Now I know you're a businessman. Taxes. Jesus, Tony."
"Does that mean you're not going to leave?" Hope, ever a pain in the ass tease, bloomed in Tony's chest.
"Not if you don't want me to. Come here." He patted the couch, but what Tony crawled onto was his lap, knees snug on either side of Steve's hips, arms around his neck.
"I don't want you to," Tony promised, holding on tight in case of sudden changes of heart. He had lots of talent in clinging to things. If Steve wanted free, he was going to need a bandsaw. From up close, it was easier to see the ticks in Steve's expression, where an anxious frown wasn't quite smoothed out and the tension in his jaw hadn't really gone away. Tony touched their foreheads together, rubbing his thumb over the ridiculously strong line of Steve's jaw. "I really don't want you to."
Warm breath brushed over Tony's lips. "What do you want, then?"
"Thai," Tony answered promptly.
Steve blinked. "Thai?"
"Thai. And it's a funny thing..." Tony tried on a seductive smile, but he had a feeling it came out pathetic. Pathetic seemed to work on Steve, though, so he wasn't complaining. "My cook at home does the best Thai—I'm not sure what it's called, but there's duck involved, I think, and afterwards I've got a great system, and I know you like big band stuff, we could..." About halfway through that thought, Tony ran out of steam. After everything Steve had done for him, needed or not, dinner and some stupid music from the forties wasn't even coming close. "Would you come home with me? Please?"
"That—" One side of Steve's mouth lifted in a small smile. "You're not hiding any more secrets, are you? No superhero identity or anything?"
Tony reeled back. "Fuck, no," he sputtered. "Do I look like superhero material to you?"
"Super something." Grabbing Tony's tie, Steve hauled him back in. Their lips pressed together softly. When Steve pulled away, it was only an inch, at best. "As long as there's no other secrets, Thai sounds wonderful."
Knowing exactly when it was safe to press his luck with the same instinct that was mostly found in children and small, fuzzy creatures, Tony perked up. "Does that mean we can have office sex now? Make up office sex?"
"That depends." Steve grinned and wrapped Tony's tie around his hand again. "Got fifty dollars?"