Tony’s been in some tight spots.
There was that time he broke Maria’s favorite vase completely by accident and tried to cover it up for three days by hiding the shattered pieces in another vase - he was only four give him a little credit. And then there was that minor scandal off-campus which, admittedly, almost landed him in big fucking trouble even though he swears up and down that one wasn’t his fault.
But this is some next level shit, and Tony knows it, because Pepper is wearing her favorite heels and she’s got her yelling face on while glaring at the waitstaff for daring to be in her way and she’s holding a folder very loosely. One single manilla folder.
Tony hates being handed things.
When someone hands you something it never means anything good. Being handed things equals a problem with a capital ‘p’ and now, ‘lo and behold, congratu-fucking-lations, that problem is about to become your problem.
Pepper doesn’t even say anything as she settles in her seat and places the folder on the table. She places her head in her hand and orders something to drink.
Tony raises his eyebrows afterward in silent question and she mirrors him.
It’s probably a board meeting, if he were to hazard a guess. Stocks took a dip in the deep end after the last fiasco but it wasn’t one of those dips where Tony was too drunk and too loud in the company of too many people with camera phones.
No, what Obie did was much, much worse than that, and it’s being reflected back at Tony tenfold.
Pepper’s drink finally arrives - drinks, she ordered more than one - the folder just went up in estimation - and she tosses a shot back before shooing the waiter away.
“Who did we kill?” Tony asks, skirting the edge of it.
“I haven’t killed anyone.” Pepper says. She sounds tired, worn down even if she’s well put together outside. Tony gets that twisted up rotten feeling in the pit of his gut he always does when he disappoints her. “Yet.”
“Should I be prepping bail money, or an alibi?”
“Neither. Tony,” Pepper drums her fingers on the folder. “I need a favor.”
“For you? Anything. Everything.” Tony says without hesitation. He’d give her the moon if he thought it would make her happy, but he’s about ninety percent sure she’d just be annoyed. Besides, this doesn’t sound like a board meeting, anymore. This sounds like it could be fun.
She taps the folder once. “This is really important to me, Tony. I need to know you’re going to follow through.”
“Yeah, okay, yes.” Tony continues to glance between her and the folder for a few seconds before he gets antsy again and makes grabby hands. She has his full attention. “Cross my heart, hope to die if I don’t aim to please.”
Pepper narrows her eyes, but pushes the folder across the table.
“How covert of you.” Tony says and earns himself an eye roll while Pepper takes another drink. “Should we be opening this underground in an undisclosed location or..?”
“You get me something every year for my birthday.” Pepper starts while Tony takes the hint and opens the folder. “Last year, you were very generous.”
Tony flicks through the first few pages and finds a picture, frowns at it. He’s done a lot of things he can’t remember, but this is a complete surprise. He actually has no memory of even thinking this was a good idea. Usually there’s at least a hint of something, a leftover spark of recognition.
“A house. This is a house.”
“A beach house.” Pepper agrees magnanimously.
“Why did I buy you a broken down beach house? In New Jersey of all places.”
“If I knew why you did half the things you do...”
Tony opens his mouth to argue, but he’s not touching that one.
“Okay, I’ll bite.” Tony says after giving each of the pictures at least a passing glance. He’s ready to phone a friend, and by friend, he means Rhodey. Maybe Pepper will explain it to him and then he can explain it in even smaller words.“What’s going on here? Obviously you don’t like-”
“No, no.” Pepper takes the folder back, taps the pictures back into place, holds it protectively on her side of the table. “It was very thoughtful. Maybe a little misguided, but I do like it.”
Tony was top of his class, but for the life of him he has no fucking clue what Pepper is trying to do. “Alright, great, well enjoy, I guess. Glad we cleared that up.”
“I want you to fix it.”
Tony stills. “..what?”
“You’re a mess.” Pepper says earnestly, shaking her head before Tony even starts to attempt to defend himself. “No, you are. And the press is having a field day with all of it, and they’ve been more relentless than usual. You need to get out of the city, Tony.”
“That’s a terrible idea.”
“No more board meetings, no high profile events. I’ll clear your schedule.”
Tony gets where she’s coming from but something about it doesn’t sit right, even if a clear schedule is beyond tempting. “What, so I’m gonna run? For how long?”
“A month? Two? Just until it all blows over.”
But they both know it’s not going to just blow over like a bad summer storm. This is an escape, an out, one Tony doesn’t know that he deserves.
“I can’t leave you here by yourself to clean up my mess, Pep. That’s not fair.”
“When did you sleep last?”
“For more than an hour or two at a time.” Pepper is watching him very carefully. She knows his tells. There’s no point in lying.
“I’ve gone longer on less, we both know that.”
“That’s not the point.”
“The hell it is.” Tony’s so frustrated with everything he has to close his eyes and take a breath. “I can’t just disappear.”
“I’ve already arranged some very small events you can go to if you want to make an appearance so it doesn’t look like you’ve run off with your tail tucked between your legs. That’s not what this is about Tony. I’m worried about you.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Pepper reaches across the table and grabs his hand. Her hand is warm and soft and incredibly comforting as it wraps itself around his own calluses and scars. “Stop it.”
Pepper squeezes his hand, and he’s done. Already signed and delivered at this point, it’s just a matter of her turning the key in the lock. “Acting.”
Steve startles at the sound of Natasha’s voice from the doorway. He hadn’t even heard her open the door, first lost in thought about the bakery bills scattered on the desk before his mind had wandered away from the task at hand. Now, he blinks back to awareness. No point in denying that she’s caught him spaced out, might as well own up to it.
“Are you okay?”
Steve smiles, or tries to. “I’m alright, Tasha.”
“Okay.” She nods, face blank. If she knows he’s lying - and she does, she always does - she decides not to call him on it. “New guy is floundering out front.”
They both sigh in the hush of the office and then Steve heaves himself out of the comfortable desk chair. The bills will keep for a few hours, customers won’t.
“New guy can’t hack it.” Clint calls from behind the ovens. “Steve’s never gonna get outta here.”
Natasha rolls her eyes. “Very reassuring, Clint.”
Clint’s lack of faith in the new guy - Steve thinks his name is Aaron, but he’s a little fuzzy on the details - isn’t a good sign. Clint’s been working at the bakery since he was fifteen, and he’s the only one other than Steve that was taught every recipe at Sarah Roger’s right hand.
Frankly, Steve’s getting tired of hiring people who aren’t cut out for the hours or the work. He’s been out of New York for six months, and he’s ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat.
He can’t have it both ways, and when it really comes down to the wire Steve is prepared to choose the bakery.
Natasha pushes through the swinging doors onto the bustling floor. Steve dives in to help the new guy by distracting some of the customers. It's been some time since he's talked to some of the locals, and it's good to catch up.
They all ask when Sarah's coming back - some of them with genuine concern, others just because it's good gossip - and Steve answers like he has been for six months; she's taking a well deserved vacation.
Once everyone is served Steve steps behind the counter again just in time for the new guy to rip his apron off and toss it in Steve's direction.
"This is bullshit. I quit."
"Sorry you feel that way." Steve mutters, trying not to twist the apron in his hands and failing.
“Stop. Don’t.” Natasha says, face blank as she watches the guy slam the front door. “Come back.”
Steve frowns at her.
"Five in one month." Sam says refilling the coffee pot and flicking the switch with ease that comes from forced familiarity. "That must be a new record."
"Two was the record. Mom never had to hire anybody after Sam started. Between the four of you the shifts were all covered."
Sam finishes loading the counter with fresh cakes. He's got flour streaked across his forehead and Natasha leans forward to wipe it off with a tiny smile that he returns. "We can't run it with just four, Steve. Would if we could."
Steve nods. "I know, it's okay."
"No. It isn't."
"Sarah isn't coming back, is she?"
They shouldn't be having this conversation on the floor, but Natasha is making that face and her arms are crossed and if she doesn't get an answer now she'll just dig for it until she finds it.
It's hard to look at the front room, cozy and light and warm, and think about his mother not being a part of it.
"Maybe." Steve hedges, unwilling to imagine the bakery without her in it. "But even if she does it won't be full time. Someone still needs to be here, at least part time to help her out."
"Somebody who isn't a complete idiot." Sam adds. "That last guy didn't know a bagel from a croissant. A croissant, Tasha. Where do you find these people?"
Natasha shakes her head. "Clint hired him."
"Don't I know it."
"Take the help wanted ad out of the paper, I can't take it anymore." Steve says to Natasha. "Please."
They're both staring at him, and he must be wearing his heart on his sleeve again because Sam looks sad and Natasha is shaking her head. "Steve."
He's paid the rent for his apartment in New York for six months. There's a customer waiting for him to come back to start a commission, but he hasn't painted in at least three months. Hasn't had the time or the inclination or the patience to sit down at the easel in the spare room and try. It didn't seem worth it when there was so much to worry about, so much to take care of. His time in New York was great, but that part of his life is over, now. Steve is needed here, at home.
And it's time he stepped up to the plate and accepted it for what it was and stopped lying to himself.
Steve ignores them both to ball up the apron in his hands. "I still have some bills to clear up. I'll be in the office if you need me."
Clint is going to need him to decorate another round of cakes soon. Sam will need a hand with boxes or deliveries. Natasha never needs help with anything but she loathes the front floor and will want the office to sort through orders.
Steve pushes through the doors until he can fold himself into the desk chair and put his head in his hands, and he gives himself five minutes. Five minutes to stuff his earliest dream in a box in the corner of his mind, and fold the corners in tightly. Five minutes to compartmentalize.
Five minutes to breathe.
The GPS won’t work.
Which is funny, because Pepper gave JARVIS the address and it should be smooth sailing all the way through.
Except Tony seems to be making a continuous loop around the same block and is still not seeing the right street.
Half an hour of stubborn circling later, Tony finally admits defeat and decides to ask for directions.
"Can I help you?"
It's the start to most of Steve's conversations in the bakery, but this time it startles the customer so much he practically jumps out of his skin and startles Steve right back. He reaches a hand out - reflex, maybe - and settles it on the guy's arm. The guy grips right back.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean-"
"Christ somebody needs to put a bell on you." The guy breathes, and then glances at Steve from behind tinted glasses. "Wow, they grow 'em big here, huh?"
"Excuse me." Steve sputters.
"Did I say that out loud? No verbal filter. Hey, you live here, right? I mean, not here here, obviously. But you're familiar with the area?"
"Uh, yeah. Yes." Steve confirms, trying to keep up.
"Alright, man of few words and hopefully not directionally challenged." The guy pats his arm, pulls away to reach in his pocket and then procures a slip of paper for Steve. "You wouldn't know where this place is, would you?"
Steve doesn't really like this guy - didn't like him when he first walked into the bakery and ignored Sam's easy greeting, didn't like him when he insisted on wearing the tinted sunglasses inside, and doesn't like his attempts at humor - so he takes the paper in hopes of getting rid of him as soon as possible. Ten minutes ago wouldn't be soon enough.
"Oh?" Sunglasses tilts his head a little, rocks on his heels. "The anticipation is killing me. Is that noise you just made a good thing, or a bad thing?"
Steve frowns at the slip of paper like it's personally betrayed him. He supposes it's too late to pray for a wrong address, or something. Anything. "You're looking for Anderson's old place."
"Ohhkay, is that supposed to mean something to me, or ...?"
"No." Steve hands the slip of paper back. "I live right next to the old Anderson place. He moved out a year or two ago. I'm pretty sure his kids sold it, but-"
“I’ll pass on the backstory. So you know where it is."
"Well, yes, but-"
"Great! Just point me in the right direction."
Steve takes a deep breath, because he's in public and Sam is behind the counter trying not to crack up and he will never, ever live it down if he loses his temper and punches this guy, but he can feel how red his face is as his heart rate climbs. Something about him just rubs Steve the wrong way, and it's like taking a match to dry leaves. "Buddy, if you'd shut up for half a second you might hear what I'm tryin' to tell ya."
“I’m not your ‘buddy’, asshat.” Sunglasses visibly bristles, the slip of paper makes a noise as it crumples. "And if this one horse, godforsaken, piece of shit town had actual street signs I'd be there already."
Steve is willing to concede that point. He's had more than one tourist come by, lost and confused and frustrated, because they can't figure out where they are and what road they need to take in order to get where they're going. The local kids are notorious for stealing the signs. Steve still remembers convincing Bucky to help him steal the Perry Street sign.
But he's not going to give this guy the satisfaction.
They stare each other down for a handful of seconds before Steve deflates, exhausted, and gives in.
"Take this street until you hit a red light. Hang a left. Stay on that road for about half a mile, and it should be on the right. If you've hit the boardwalk, you've gone too far."
Sunglasses smirks, cocksure and gorgeous, and starts to back away with a shrug. "Was that so hard?"
"Get the fuck out of my bakery." Steve says with a touch of heat. He's done with this guy.
God help them both if he isn't just a weekend warrior renting the house and he stays.
"Ooh, feisty. I love that in my pastries. And my neighbors."
The guy winks, and leaves. Steve shakes his head at the door.
When he turns back towards the counter, Sam's face is doing something strange.
"Did he seem familiar to you?"
"No." Steve says. He grew up to next to Anderson's kids, and all five of them were girls who went on to bigger and better things in bigger and better cities. Sunglasses isn’t familiar to Steve. Not in the slightest. "Why?"
"I don't know." Sam shakes his head. "But that was the weirdest flirting I have ever seen. And I hang out with Barton."
“I was not flirting.”
Natasha snorts. “Yeah, okay.”
“I wasn’t!” Steve insists.
“It’s okay, Steve.” Sam calls from behind the counter. “You haven’t been on a date in two years. You don’t remember how to flirt.”
“Now boys.” Natasha says calmly as Steve tries to get Sam in a headlock and Sam responds with an elbow to Steve’s ribs. “That’s not very professional.”
“Five bucks on Wilson!”
“Ten on Rogers.” Natasha calls back to Clint easily.
Steve's an early riser.
Living with a parent with strange hours will do that to you, makes you adapt in new and strange ways. So, Steve gets up before the sun on good days. On bad days, he doesn't make it to bed at all, going straight from a late night at the bakery to a rushed early morning before they reopen.
He presses a kiss to her temple as he passes her in the kitchen and she swats at him with the dish towel. It snaps against his arm and he grins at the contact. She's getting better, even if it is slow going. "Did you just get in? At this hour?"
"Late night at the office."
"Early morning, more like." She says as she shakes her head.
Steve thinks it's funny that their roles have been reversed like this, that she doesn't approve now the way he didn't approve when he was ten and she came in smelling like warm sugar and cold coffee just before he went to school. "You know how it is."
"I wish I didn't." Sarah levels him with a look and nods at his running clothes. "Be careful."
His usual run takes him in a circle around town to the boardwalk, and back the opposite way. Sometimes he catches Sam on the way and they run together for a mile or so until they part ways, but he's out too early for Sam to be up, and it's overcast anyway. The beach is all but deserted as the sun rises steadily above the rolling tide. Steve loves the bustle of New York, but there isn't anything like a sunrise at home.
He's got some time left, so he grabs a coffee from one of the vendors on his way back and tries to imagine capturing the lines on paper. It doesn't take long to discard the idea. Frustrated, angry with himself, Steve finishes his drink and pushes himself home.
He's almost home when he sees him sitting at the top of the steps, back propped against one of the pillars on the Anderson's old porch. The door is open behind him and boxes and tools are strewn everywhere. It seems like he's got the electricity working, at least. It certainly looks like he stuck his finger in one of the sockets, with the way his hair is sticking up in every direction.
It's just Steve's luck that Sunglasses looks like he's actually moving in next door instead of just moving on. But, hey. It's a new day, and Steve can admit that maybe they got off on the wrong foot.
So, he slows to a walk, and waves. "Good morning!"
"Oh my god you're a morning person." Sunglasses says, reaching for something behind him with one arm. He salutes Steve with an open bottle of something amber colored. "Fuck you and your cheerfulness."
"It's not even six-thirty." Steve says, parking himself on the sidewalk.
“And you’re running.” He peers over the top of his copper toned shades and raises an eyebrow. "Point?"
Steve raises his hands in surrender.
Sunglasses - and Steve really needs to figure out the guy's name if he's going to live here - tips the bottle back and takes a long drink. The sun hits him just right and Steve's breath catches as his throat works once, twice, three times before he sets the bottle of whiskey back down.
"I've been told that staring is rude."
The bottle is more than half empty, but he isn't slurring at all. Just sort of leering at Steve with a smirk that knows too much for Steve's comfort. It's a bait Steve isn't going to take.
Instead, Steve jogs up the six steps and plants his sneakers on either side of him, effectively knocking over the booze, and leans down to offer him a hand.
"We got off on the wrong foot. I’m Steve Rogers. I live next door, it’s nice to meet you."
And Sunglasses pauses, almost as if he's trying to decide if Steve is serious, and then he tilts his head back and laughs like Steve's just told the best joke he's ever heard.
"Anthony, but please," Tony chuckles, shaking Steve's hand with a warm, strong grip. "Call me Tony."
Steve's grinning like a fool. Tony's an asshole, but he's beautiful when he laughs. There's a spark in the pit of Steve's stomach that's growing into a full blown fire and it's dangerous, to tease, but he can't bring himself to care. "What's so funny, Tony?"
"It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, for starters." Tony is gripping his hand, his eyes are sad underneath the shades. He looks a little lost. "You're just the embodiment of the American Dream, Mr. Rogers. I bet you puke sunshine and wear sweatervests unironically."
"Are things that easy where you come from?"
"You make it sound like I drive a UFO."
Steve nods seriously. "You're definitely from another planet."
"You knocked over my booze, Mr. Rogers."
Steve didn't miss the change of subject, but he isn't going to call him on it. He rolls his eyes. "Please don't call me that."
"I demand payment in the form of coffee. I'll also accept directions to the nearest Home Depot." Steve tries to let go but Tony holds on. "Ah, ah, ah. Don't run off so fast, Rocky. Still need directions."
"Need my hands to point." Tony narrows his eyes, but releases Steve. He plops down on the top step next to Tony and props his elbows on his knees as he looks around at the mess Tony’s made of the house. "You really think you can fix it up?"
"Uh, yeah." Tony says it like he's offended Steve thought he couldn't do something. "It's what I do."
"Restore things?" Steve hedges.
"Tinker." Tony supplies.
"That wasn't a 'nothing'. That was totally a 'something'."
Steve wonders if Tony ever lets anything go. Ever. "Tinker implies metal."
It's hard not to argue, but Steve manages. "Home depot is at the other end of town. Just go straight through all three lights. Can't miss it."
"Shouldn't go." Steve starts. Nods at the bottle when Tony frowns at him. "After all that."
"No, no." Tony shakes his head quickly. "I'm not drunk, but I won't."
They sit in relative silence on the top step in the early morning light, and it should be awkward, but it's sort of nice to just be with someone who doesn’t expect anything from him for a few minutes.
"Good luck with the place." Steve says, honestly, and then he tacks on. "Let me know if you need a hand. I'm right next door."
“Get off my lawn, Mr. Rogers.” Tony throws a hand over his eyes and waves him away with the other. "It's too early to tempt me with that kind of language. Go be neighborly with somebody more willing."
"You will not believe what is living next door to your poor excuse for a beach house."
Pepper is smiling on the screen. She sets some folders aside. "Hmm, is it a golden retriever?"
Tony brakes at the red light, and lowers his sunglasses to stare at her. "How did you know? You google-earthed it, didn’t you."
"I have eyes everywhere." She makes the universal sign for 'I'm watching you', and Tony cracks up. It’s only been a week or so but he misses her. The hush of the house and the town don’t sit right. He misses his tools and his tech and falling asleep on the little cot in the workshop as Dummy tries and fails to clean up.
Tony’s never coped well with being alone.
"He's something out of an underwear magazine. Or my wildest dreams. Un-fucking-believable. The one house I can't remember buying, and you've got six flavors of rippled living next door. Hold on, maybe JARVIS got a close up I was too busy oogling."
"Already sent, sir."
"You’re the best, J."
"I thought we said no distractions." Pepper says as she eyes the screen on her own phone. "And this is clearly a distraction. You’ve been gone three days."
"I was going to gift wrap him for you - single guy, with added bakery how is that not the best birthday gift ever - but if you're not interested.." Tony trails off, changing lanes.
"Not sure he's my type."
"I know you favor women Pep but this is too good to pass up. You should've seen him blush before he left."
Tony has fantastic self control - most of the time, sometimes, okay, when he needs to have self control it might show itself - but he’s also got ideas that include Steve on his knees, and finding out how far that blush actually goes.
"Motorcycle.” She says wistfully, rifling through more papers. “Last time I dated a guy with a motorcycle I was in high school. Have you gotten any work done on the house?"
"Going to pick up supplies as we speak."
"Did you tell him who you are?"
Tony winces. "No?"
Pepper abandons her paperwork. "You're serious?"
"Yeah, I mean. He didn't say anything yesterday. And today I just brushed over it - unintentionally, totally an accident - and nada. Zip. Didn’t even recognize me."
"I can do some digging." Pepper offers easily. "If you want."
"Aw you're giving me dibs."
"You've had a rough month."
"Pity dibs." Tony groans. Pity dibs is the worst. "Wait, you’re giving the all clear? I thought-"
"Of course not. This is not part of the plan. The very carefully crafted plan that we both agreed on to keep you flying under the radar. But it’s never stopped you before, and I can’t say I didn’t have a backup plan. Just in case.”
“Plans and me, we’re just not meant to be.” Tony heaves a sigh. "He's probably straight."
"Your flavor of choice." Pepper laughs. "Just try not to cause a scandal without giving me a little warning for damage control. I'm too far away to bribe everyone around you. And don't burn down my house."
They hang up by mutual agreement. Pepper has a mountain of work ahead of her and Tony has finally managed to find the local Home depot. He turns the engine off and sits in the driver's seat holding the keys. The situation must be mostly shit if Pepper felt the need to dance around it and distract him. She hadn't brought up the board or the stocks or new designs once.
They're probably still arguing around weapons, probably still arguing that Obie was right; Tony isn't fit to run the company.
Tony closes his eyes against the sun and grips the steering wheel until the ache from his hand hurts more than the ache in his chest. He should know better than to close his eyes, but it's a reflex he never was able to kick. The flash of the gun is always a surprise, and his hand flies to his chest without his permission. He curls his fingers around the door handle instead and pushes himself out to lean against the door and suck in air.
"Goddamn it. Get it together."
It passes, like it always does when he wakes up and finds himself scarred, but whole, and it's not fun to pick himself up, but he does.
The house needs a huge overhaul if Pepper is going to make this her summer home. At the very least, it needs new appliances, new windows, a remake on the hardwood floors, and a fresh coat of paint.
Tony has most of it down, but the paint is a problem. The stakes on this one are high, and Tony doesn't know if he should go crazy, or keep it simple for Pepper's sake.
He grabs whatever swatches catch his attention and resolves to figure it out later. He's got enough work to keep him busy for at least a week. Maybe two, if he plays his cards right.
The appliances are set to be delivered in a week, and Tony stuffs varnish and brushes and tools in the trunk feeling like he's accomplished something without actually doing anything.
Steve is putting the finishing touches on a custom order when Clint knocks into him.
It's an accident, of course. Clint isn't malicious like that. But it's - as his mother would say - the icing on the cake, and Steve heaves a sigh at the ruined design.
"Aw, cake." Clint says, mournfully. "I'll fix it."
"You're crap at decorating. Especially roses." Steve argues.
Clint finishes stacking trays in the racks and wipes his hands. "Yeah, but I made the mess and it's late."
"Sam said you had plans tonight." Steve waves him away when he tries to look at the damage. "Don't worry about it."
Clint gives him a sideways look, like he's trying to gauge if it's a good idea to leave Steve alone. "You sure? It's almost ten, Steve."
Steve nods, tries to smile. "Positive. Go on, have a good time."
Clint doesn't appear convinced, but he doesn't press. "Don't stay here all night."
"I thought I was in charge around here." He puts his hands on his hips and Clint laughs.
"Tasha will kill me if she finds out I left you to languish by yourself."
Clint shrugs out of his apron. "Don't ask. See you in the morning?"
"Bright and early." Steve confirms. Clint waves as he leaves the kitchen through the back door.
Tony jumps and ends up hitting his finger with the hammer instead of the nail.
"Jesus!" He sticks his finger in his mouth - because it smarts, damn it - and shifts around to look back towards where the front door is propped open.
"Sorry, sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. It’s just- the door was open, and well."
"We've got to stop meeting like this." Steve is standing in the foyer, doorknob in hand, shifting back and forth on his feet like he isn't sure if he's welcome. At almost three in the morning, it's certainly plausible. And the waffling is absolutely adorable. "What's up?"
"I," Steve is busy surveying the inside of the house, subtly cataloging the changes since his last visit. Tony wonders if he spent any time in here, if it looked much different. "Mom thought, maybe-"
"By 'Mom'." Tony glances past Steve through the open door. "You don't mean the lovely lady currently bearing a tray of cookies across my lawn at three in the morning. Do you?"
Steve covers his face with one hand - covered in something that could possibly be paint? - and he looks exhausted and on the brink of laughter at the same time. "I'm so sorry-"
"Does she have coffee on that tray?" Tony picks himself up off the floor and dusts himself off before placing his hand on Steve's shoulder. Something about the early morning dark spilling into the house with Steve makes him brave. And handsy. "Never apologize for caffeine."
"She insisted. I think she was a little mad at me for not telling her that someone was moving in earlier. My manners are slipping."
"Clearly." Tony intones, and then directs Steve with the hand on his shoulder to turn towards the uproar that is currently the kitchen before releasing him. "Unfortunately, I have no table."
"We didn't mean to impose." Sarah says from the doorway. "But this place needs all the help it can get."
They're both in their pajamas, Tony realizes. The hammering must've woken them up, and then Steve probably got the third degree for not telling Ms. Rogers about the state of affairs next door.
And then they decided to bring over refreshments for the guy keeping them awake at an ungodly hour.
"You two are something else. Really." Tony says, as Sarah puts the tray on a nearby box and Steve rubs the back of his neck. "Very thoughtful of you, but I'm not actually moving in."
"Oh." Sarah says. "But you did buy the house?"
Tony makes a face. He’s still not sure about it if he’s honest. "I'm just here to make it livable."
"You're flipping it?" Steve asks.
That's about as close as he can get to it, honestly, so Tony nods along. "For a friend."
"Well, we're certainly happy to have you until you're ready to go." Sarah says earnestly, and then comes forward to wrap him in a hug.
It's strange, for the first second or two. Tony wasn't expecting it, and by the expression on Steve's face from over Sarah's shoulder, he wasn't either. It's been a long time since he's allowed anyone this close, but it's warm and Sarah smells like lavender and melted chocolate and Tony kind of loves her a little bit already for bringing the coffee over.
It's over before Tony can wrap his mind around it, and then she's patting his cheek softly, and he doesn't know what to do with that, either. "Come over for dinner before you go. You look like you could use a good meal."
Tony offers her a smile, a real one. "It's a date."
"Dates bring expensive wine!" Sarah calls over her shoulder. Steve is gaping a little in shock, and they're both quiet until she hits the sidewalk.
"You're lucky." Tony says before he can stop himself, eyes glued to the tray. "To have a mom like that."
"Yeah." Steve is doing that shuffle again with his feet, shifting restlessly. "When's the last time you slept?"
Tony opens his mouth and then closes it again because he can't quite remember.
"I thought so." He points to the coffee mug Tony is currently holding like it's the holy grail.
"Fellow insomniac." A corner of his mouth is twitching like he's trying hard not to laugh. "I hope I'm not overstepping my boundaries, but-"
If it was anybody else. Anybody but Mr. Rogers - Baker Extraordinaire and all around fucking gorgeous human being - Tony would tell them to take a hike to the next planet and leave the goddamn cookies.
Instead, he nearly spills the coffee all over himself by waving his hands in a gesture meant to encourage, not scare away. "No, by all means. Overstep away."
Steve, more confident now, plows ahead. "Tell me you're planning on painting the walls. And the porch. Please."
"Or ..?" Tony hazards. "You'll come over here and do it yourself?"
"Didn't stop me from boarding up the windows during the last hurricane and cleaning up afterwards."
Tony gapes. Two hours of his precious, sacred time. Wasted pulling nails.
"I was doing ours anyway?" Steve looks a little sheepish. Tony tells himself it’s not the cutest thing he’s ever seen. "Guilty."
"Do-gooders." Tony mumbles into his coffee. It’s hot and too sweet just like he likes it when he’s overtired and Steve can definitely stay. Steve can stay forever. "I have some paint chips, but I haven't decided yet."
"Good. That's good." Steve says like the house might turn out just fine as long as Tony paints it. Like the sink isn't leaking and the stairs don't creak and something didn't die in the fridge two years ago. It's sort of amazing, that Steve has faith in him already.
Tony doesn’t deserve it.
"Fair warning. I’m probably just gonna hire somebody."
Steve balks, and suddenly the paint on his hands makes a lot more sense. "What? No. Don't do that."
"Um, tinker-er." Tony points at himself and shakes his head. Holds back a smile at his own genius. "Not a painter. Why do it myself when I can hire a pro?"
"You're sanding the hardwood floors yourself, and comparatively that's a big job. Just because you haven't done it yet doesn't mean you can't teach yourself."
And Steve... Steve has managed to hit the nail right on the head there. The hardwood floors had been a toss-up, but he'd been able to rent the equipment for next to nothing and what idiot couldn't slap on some poly and call it good after a quick tutorial?
It's not rocket science.
"Alright, alright. I see what you mean, but it's completely different. I have no artistic talent whatsoever and I can't just pull that out of my ass." Tony says between bites of cookie. "These are fucking fabulous, by the way."
Steve's smile is fond. "Mom's speciality. Don't ask what's in them. Pretty sure it's a matter of national security at this point."
Tony chews for a minute, deep in thought. "So. You don't happen to, I don't know, have any thoughts including painting this house a terrifying shade of eggshell, do you? Because so far, that's all I've got, and I'm ninety nine percent certain that Pepper will murder me herself if this isn't done right." Tony tries to turn on the puppy eyes, but they've never worked on anyone but Rhodey before. "I would be forever in your debt."
"White?" Steve asks. "You're kidding, right? Please tell me you're kidding."
Steve starts laughing and it's bright and real and for a moment it's like the world was lifted from his shoulders. He's ethereal, standing underneath the light in the foyer in a threadbare shirt and blue sweatpants. Tony's a moth being drawn to the light, and this?
This is now bad with a capital 'B'.
"You can't paint this house white."
"Ah, no. First of all, it's a Victorian. I'll have to check the ordinances but I'm sure if you're within city limits it has to be some god awful variation of pink at the very least." Steve says, grinning. "Second of all, I won't let you."
Something hooks itself, sharp and snug, in Tony's chest and refuses to let go. Steve is flirting with him. This is so very dangerous, this tentative game they're playing. It’s falling into place too easily. "Well I don't want to-"
"It's no trouble. Really. I'll come by day after tomorrow with some ideas."
"Okay." Tony agrees, because arguing in this case isn't in his best interest and Steve is edging towards the door with more purpose this time. "I'll owe you one."
He turns around and even though he's only in sweatpants and an old t-shirt, he makes it sound like a serious challenge. "Don't think I won't collect."
"Whatever you want." Tony manages to choke out. And the worst part is, he means it.
If he can get Steve to smile like that again, he totally, definitely means it.
Steve does come over.
It kind of becomes a standing invitation. Tony leaves the door open when he's working on the house, and Steve comes over after work, or before. He brings whatever Sarah is working on in the kitchen, because, as he puts it, she's always looking for new taste testers.
Tony loves being the official taste tester. He tells Sarah - very seriously - that it’s the best job he’s ever had.
Steve brings paint chips in all shades, and tells Tony to think it over. Tony spreads them out on the new dining room table, and considers each and every one over a span of three hours. Taking different shades to the wall, and outside to mull over and eventually replace. Greens and blues and yellows. Warm reds and browns. It's all too much. Steve should’ve known.
"I mean, really. What's the difference between 'pastorale jade' and 'pale jade'? Aren't they both the same color?"
"Well obviously one is brighter than the other." Steve says wryly. He's dragged Tony out of the kitchen for half an hour to sit on the boardwalk and watch the sunset, hoping to take both of their minds off of the house. Unfortunately, it's backfired. Tony's so caught up in the house he can't seem to think about anything else. His ice cream is melting everywhere, the wind is caught in his hair, and he’s in constant motion. Steve can’t stop watching him. It’s like a dance. A barely coordinated, plaster and ice cream covered, completely natural dance Tony isn’t even aware of.
The sunset seems dull, compared to him.
"Is it really going to be that noticeable? Is somebody going to look at the front and think to themselves 'this bastard used pastorale jade instead of pale, how pretentious'?"
There's a laugh building in Steve's chest. He does his best to choke it back. Only Tony would be losing sleep over the color. "I'll help you decide."
"My hero." Tony says honestly, he almost presses the hand holding the ice cream to his chest before he remembers and reconsiders. "Seriously. Thank you, for this."
Steve shakes his head, tells him to finish his ice cream. Blushes as Tony licks the cream from his fingers.
The renovations move forward like waves, starting slow but gaining momentum as they build. Steve is the one that picks the color in the end. They argue over it for almost two weeks, waffling back and forth. Steve leaves the house in a frustrated huff more than once - Tony can be completely, unapologetically, impossible when he wants to be. The paint is a major sticking point for both of them, and even though Tony admitted he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, he isn’t the kind of guy that hands over the wheel without putting up a little bit of a fight.
Steve can respect that, at least. His mother reminds him - with a knowing smile and a glance next door - that he knows a thing or two about stubbornness himself, so he doesn’t give up, and he doesn’t leave Tony in the dark.
It’s into his third week in town when Tony announces that he can't look at the table for another fucking minute. He grabs three chips out of the pile they’ve whittled down to nothing, and he puts them in Steve’s hands before leaving the room.
After the other chips are swept into the huge trashcan, Steve leaves his pick on the table before going next door to get ready for his shift. When he comes back two days later, the table is full of paint and brushes and rollers. Everything someone could want to paint a house, just like that.
Steve finds Tony propped up in the corner of one of the guest rooms upstairs, tape measure in hand, fast asleep in the morning sun. He hasn't itched like this for a sketchbook in months, and yet, something about the dark circles under Tony's eyes and the slack line of his mouth is just begging to be put on paper. Mapped out, remembered.
The idea catches Steve off guard, and he stands in the doorway, flummoxed, for longer than he should.
He wakes Tony with a few soft words and a hand on his shoulder. Tony comes up out of sleep unfocused and wary, swinging, until he takes in Steve, and then he slumps like his strings were cut and allows Steve to guide him with a hand on the small of his back to the bed in the master bedroom. He's asleep before Steve pulls the curtains and closes the bedroom door.
The relief in Tony's eyes stays with Steve all through his day at the bakery. He slips up more than once, and Clint and Natasha both give him worried glances when they think he isn't looking. It's just that he knows how Tony likes his coffee, but he doesn't know much more than that. He knows he's from Malibu, but not what he does for a living. He knows that he’s doing this for a woman named Pepper, but not what she actually means to Tony.
And he doesn't know what Tony is going to do, or where he's going to go, after the house is finished.
It's unnerving. It rattles him, a little, like the branches of the old oak in the backyard rattle the windows. Steve plants himself in his favorite place to sketch, and the lines don't come easily - he tears out more pages and erases more lines than he ever has before - but they do come. He's out of practice, but he can still make something come to life under his hands even if he isn’t fond of any of the lines. He can make it happen, bite the bullet, if he has to.
Just like that.
On the Sunday four weeks after Tony blundered his way into Steve's life, several things happen.
Steve gets a phone call from New York that he's been expecting for months now, and as much as he knew how it would go, he really didn't have any idea how awful he would feel afterward.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Fury."
"I thought we agreed you'd call me 'Nick'." And the phone makes a noise that suggests he's in the middle of something. His hours are strange and long and Steve doesn't know what he does but he's been at every one of Steve's showings. He's become a friend, for lack of a better word. "And it's not something you need to apologize for."
"Well, in any case, I am sorry."
"Just.. promise you'll call when you get back to New York so we can arrange something."
It's more of an 'if' than a 'when' at this point, but Steve does promise before hanging up.
"I guess I should give my bad news next." Sarah is standing at the kitchen sink, hands on her hips, frowning. "He's yelling at his front door, do you think he’s locked out again?"
Steve sighs, but the idea of Tony finally taking on the squeaky hinge on the old front door does cheer him up, for a minute or so. "He’s just fixing it. He hates the noise it makes."
"Steve," Sarah turns away from the window. "I'm going back to work tomorrow."
He's quiet for a minute. "Are you sure?"
"That's great, Mom." It's a good thing, Steve tells himself. It's why he came back, it's why he dropped everything. To get her back at the bakery, to get her some help, that was the goal.
"Oh, honey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's nothing." He says, picking at the grain of the table. It's just that he doesn't know how to go back to what he was before.
Sarah sits at the table, and folds his hand into both of hers. "It's your painting, isn't it?"
And he's ten again and the boy from two blocks down had called him something awful for standing too close to Bucky and Steve wasn't going to admit to it but Sarah already knew.
She always knows.
"I don't know if I can do it anymore, Mom." It's just not the same, he wants to say. It's just not what it was. It used to be easy, effortless. Steve barely had to work at it. Inspiration just sprung up from the ground and fell out of the sky and Steve got to pick whatever he wanted to pursue.
And now it feels like he's trying to gather blood from rocks to paint with.
"If I could just go back.." Steve starts and then shakes his head. He doesn't know what possessed him back then that doesn't now. He doesn't know how to fix whatever broke inside of him.
"You don't love it anymore." Sarah says gently. "You loved all of your pieces before. You were so excited about everything. What's different now?"
"I don't know."
Sarah nods like it's progress. "Maybe," She trails off in thought, cocking her head. "It’s time to try something else."
"Oh, I don't know." Sarah shrugs, a quick lift of her shoulders. "Remember how much I hated brownies?"
"Yeah," Steve remembers a frustrated Sarah cursing under her breath in front of the ovens right before Valentine's Day. Throwing ideas back and forth, like volleys, with Maria.
"They were dry and boring and I hated them. What was the use? Nobody was buying brownies. And then," She lifts a finger and taps his nose with a warm smile. "You wanted brownies. So, I fought with that recipe for two days straight. I tried everything - every chocolate under the sun, more egg, less oil. Nothing worked, and it didn't matter what I tried. Everything I made was disgusting. Until," Sarah pauses for dramatic effect. "I went home and you - barely tall enough to reach the counter - made me a zucchini sandwich, do you remember that?"
Steve nods. He remembers the hug she gave him lasting forever.
Sarah pats his hand. "And the rest is history. Brownies were never the same."
It's an interesting story, especially when he takes into consideration how popular the bakery's brownie is currently. "I dont get it."
"Sometimes you're looking in the wrong place for the right ingredient to get you back on track. Sometimes you have to wade through countless recipes to get to the zucchini. Maybe you have to wade through some landscapes to get back to what you love."
"Landscapes?" Steve makes a face. "Mom."
"Oh, don't be sour about it." She rises from the table and pulls down mugs for coffee. "It was just a suggestion."
"Anytime, sweetie." Sarah says, but she does a double take at the window and her tone is exasperated when she continues. "I don't know how you do it, Steven, but you've done it again. Bucky, Clint, Sam, and now this.”
She pulls down another mug and tilts her head towards the window. "You've brought home another lost boy."
"I didn't have anything to do with Tony buying the house."
"Is that why you've been sneaking over there all hours of the night with coffee? Helping him? And dragging him to antique shops and the boardwalk? Because he bought the house?"
Steve shrugs under her scrutiny, helplessly. And he can admit it to himself that she's right. Steve is developing a soft sweet spot for the sarcastic, sleep deprived guy next door who plays his music too loud.
Tony's nature is to go against the grain. Steve kind of loves that about him. "He's just.. eccentric? He keeps weird hours, but he isn't hurting anything." Tony's putting things back together, the best way he knows how. With lots of planning and elbow grease and whiskey and some of the most colorful swearing Steve's ever heard.
Sarah is watching him carefully. "Not yet he isn't."
They both make their coffee and Sarah sits back down with the cookie jar. Steve cherishes Sundays like nothing else because it's always been a part of their routine to make time for each other.
"Just because I'm going back to work, doesn't mean you need to leave."
Steve startles a little, but he recovers quickly. "No, I know that."
"Good." Sarah settles into her chair. "Now take some lunch over to your lost boy so I can have an hour of peace. That poor door doesn’t sound like it’s going to live to see another day."
Time seems to fly, after that.
Tony finishes off the hardwood floors after pulling a couple of all-nighters in the middle of the next week and he’s exhausted and grinning when he shows Steve. They shine beautifully underneath Steve’s running sneakers and Tony’s scuffed up boots. Tony is sporting fresh dark circles and under the guise of checking out the transition from the hallway to the kitchen, Steve replaces the container of coffee and the liquor from it’s home under the brand new coffee maker with a sticky note before he leaves.
When Steve opens his front door the next day, Tony is leaning against the doorway watching Steve from over his sunglasses with an expectant look.
Steve hands over the coffee in question. Tony manages to sneak a few of Sarah’s cookies from the cooling rack before he kisses her cheek, winks at Steve, and leaves without a word about the liquor.
Sarah says he’s trouble with a capital ‘T’, but she’s grinning into her mug.
When she goes back to the bakery part time, Steve starts to find himself at loose ends. He doesn’t want to follow her to work and hover over her shoulder, but he doesn’t want to stay in the house and twiddle his thumbs, either.
Luckily, Tony always seems to be cursing at another part of the house just as Steve gets frustrated with drawing, or himself, or whatever movie he’s watching. After the third time Steve walks over to find Tony trying to lift something heavy on his own, Steve puts his number on the brand new fridge with a note to call him whenever .
(He acts completely casual about it the first time Tony actually calls, but he’s very pleased with himself for trading numbers with Tony without asking.)
It backfires, of course. Steve putting the ball in Tony’s court always leads to the ball being thrown right back at him. But with fireworks.
A picture of seed packets in a rack and a million question marks lead Steve to rescuing Tony from the garden center before he throws his hands up and buys one of everything.
“Perennial or annual.” Tony says seriously. “How am I supposed to make this kind of decision? Some of this shit pops up every year what if Pepper doesn’t like what I plant? She deserves nice flowers. Hey, can she just pull it all out and restart or will they keep coming back like zombie plants? Oh my god.” Tony stops rambling and turns to Steve. “Zombie plants. Doesn’t that sound like a great sci-fi original?”
And Steve - who not an hour ago had almost tossed his favorite notebook in the trash yet again and is now happily holding packets of zinnias and marigolds while Tony rambles on about undead daffodils - bursts out laughing, startling two older women in the aisle.
Steve never dreamed meeting Tony would turn his life into impromptu mid afternoon Wal-Mart rescues and older ladies shushing them, but he’s happy it did. God, he’s so happy it did.
Tony plants roses and wildflowers and hydrangeas and daffodils in the backyard while Steve is at work. Sarah reports that he was agonizing over how much fertilizer to use, so she went over to help. Steve teases her about it, but he knows how it feels. Tony’s like a magnet in a lot of ways.
Steve just can’t stay away.
He finally asks Tony about it after they’re done painting the porch. It’s been in the back of his mind since Tony asked him for help choosing the paint without actually asking.
Something is driving Tony to make the house perfect, and Steve can’t figure it out. He brings up Pepper and her opinion at least once during every project. It’s obvious that he has almost daily contact with her, but Tony laughed at him when he asked if they were together. Claiming that they co-existed better without sex complicating things.
Which didn’t answer Steve’s question at all, it just made the answer harder to chase after.
So Steve asks why it’s so important - because it’s obvious that Tony is eating, sleeping, and breathing every repair. The floors are flawless because Tony spent countless hours perfecting his work. The porch steps don’t sag anymore because Tony tore the other set apart when he noticed a slight measurement error and he started again from scratch.
Tony rolls his lips together and fiddles with the screwdriver in his hand, doesn’t look at Steve for a few minutes. But when he answers, he’s sober. “I’m not so great at tinkering with things lately, Steve.”
“You’re doing a great job with the house.” Steve says earnestly. “I never imagined you’d tackle it as quickly as you have.”
Tony shrugs off the praise. “Pepper asked me to fix the house. But, I know she told me to come out here - to get me out of my comfort zone - so I could get my shit together. I just couldn’t think in the workshop anymore.”
Steve sympathizes. “Hit a rough spot?”
“You could say that.” Tony tosses the screwdriver in the toolbox. “A dead end.”
“Is it helping?” Steve asks, glancing around the house.
Tony looks back up, and his eyes dart to Steve’s lips for the briefest of moments. Steve thinks he must have imagined it when Tony grins, and it’s impossible to look away when he lights up like that. “Yeah, Steve. It’s helping.”
Tony has been in town for six weeks. The house next door is finally painted. The rooms are finished for the most part, although Tony is considering accents on the doors he hasn't made any final decisions yet. The sink needs a plumber and the lights in the dining area are mostly wires at this point, but the house is painted.
And Steve finally gets up the courage to ask his favor.
"What?" Tony asks in the tone that means he heard what you said but it didn't mean a damn thing to him when you said it.
"'Whatever you want.'" Steve quotes easily as Tony turns around. He's carefully planned this, but he's learned you can never plan anything with Tony in the mix. There's too many variables. "Dinner, tomorrow night. That's what I want."
Tony - constant motion, inane chatter, fell-off-the-ladder-and-climbed-right-back-up Tony - stops dead in his tracks and whispers a soft. "Oh."
Steve tries not to move as Tony tries to come up with something to say. He's trying to remember the moment he made Tony speechless, but he’s so wound up waiting for the answer. His heart might pound it’s way right out of his chest and plant itself in the new hardwood floors before Tony actually says something.
“Or, you know, a date. Of some kind. Doesn’t have to be dinner. We could… go to the movies?” Steve tries to gauge what Tony is thinking, and comes up with nothing. "Please, just put me out of my misery."
"Whatever you want." Tony says, smirking. "Pick me up at seven."
"How about five."
Tony squints at Steve, trying to figure it out. "That's early. For dinner."
"I can't tell you it's supposed to be a surprise."
Tony huffs out a laugh, and Steve, bolstered by it, takes two steps forward to peck Tony on the cheek. It turns into a scuffle as Tony twists a hand in Steve's shirt to pull him back and return the favor, and they're knocking into each other and Tony pecks him on the lips, chaste and soft, before releasing him.
"Aren't you supposed to be at work?" Tony asks, brows drawn together after they break apart.
"Shit." Steve says, making a break for the front. He turns around just long enough to call over his shoulder. "You're sure?"
"Positive." Tony is grinning ear to ear, arms folded across his chest.
“I’m not sure.” Tony is standing on the top step with his arms crossed, sunglasses perched on the end of his nose. “In fact, I’m very not sure.”
“I brought you a helmet.” Steve supplies. “It’s perfectly safe.”
“It’s not ‘perfectly safe’. It’s a deathtrap.” Tony says, taking the stairs two at a time. “Seriously, is this thing, pre-war?”
Steve holds the helmet out encouragingly. “I’ll keep it under seventy?”
Tony sighs, but sets a hand on Steve’s shoulder to swing his leg over the bike, neglecting the helmet. “I’m going to regret this.”
Steve waits until he’s fully settled before he takes off, slowly. Tony’s hands are too tight against his ribs for the first mile or two, but he eases up eventually and even tries to guess at where they’re going. It’s a short ride, but Steve enjoys every minute of Tony, warm at his back.
Tony is, shockingly, unsurprised.
“I bet you take all your dates here.”
“Only the mouthy ones.” Steve quips back. “Nobody to hear you out here.”
While Tony stares, gaping like a fish, Steve starts for the walkway that leads to the beach. “Coming?”
“Uh, yeah. Yes.” Tony stutters out. “Are you trying to seduce me, or take me hostage?”
“Seduce, hopefully. Taking you hostage would be too much work.” Steve admits. “Is it working?”
Tony catches up, brushes their shoulders together. “Maybe. What’re we doing, anyway?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Mm.” Tony says, and their hands touch before he threads his fingers through Steve’s. “Is it a picnic?”
Steve curses, Tony laughs and squeezes his hand before letting go. “So cliche.”
“If I took you to one of the places in town, I’d never hear the end of it.”
“What, I’m not good enough to be seen around town with?”
“No,” Steve starts. “I was just hoping we could have one date without anybody asking us what our intentions are.”
Tony grins. “Good point.”
They pause at the walkway and step out of their shoes and roll up their pants. There’s a bit of a scuffle when Steve almost tips over and then ends up knocking Tony into the sand by accident.
On the way back, Steve eases the bike into their lane, stretches his legs to the pavement as they stop for the red light.
And Tony sees his chance, can't not take advantage of their position.
"Hey, Steve," He starts, and Steve glances at Tony over his left shoulder, leans back a bit so he can hear the rest.
The rest never comes.
Tony leans forward into Steve's side and catches his cheek in his left hand to bring him in for a kiss. The world whites out as Tony seals their lips together and closes his eyes. It lingers for half a second as Steve doesn't react, and then Tony starts to pull back.
Steve gets with the program, and turns a fraction more towards Tony on the seat without putting the bike down. He's got one hand on the handlebars, but the other reaches around and drags Tony even closer as he finally kisses back.
The light turned green ages ago and people are honking to their left. Tony's pretty sure somebody is recording this on their phone.
He thinks about pulling back, but then Steve deepens the kiss, turning his head just so. He thumbs over Tony's cheek, and the light is red again anyway. Tony closes his eyes, chasing the heat of Steve’s mouth with a slow drag of his teeth.
They break apart to breathe, and Tony watches Steve touch his mouth before redirecting his attention to the traffic.
It’s a good thing Tony waited until the last red light before the house to pull that stunt. Not that Steve drives recklessly, or even speeds, to their destination, but Tony’s hand on his thigh is obviously distracting him.
Steve parks in his driveway, and links hands with Tony before leading him across the sidewalk and up the stairs.
Thankfully, Tony’s already with the program. He’s got his keys out, shouldering his way past Steve to try and open the front door with steady hands.
Steve turns out to be a wall of muscle and determination, and pushing him aside is almost impossible. Tony’s hands aren’t so steady with Steve crowding him against the front door, chest pressed against Tony’s back, hands working their way under Tony’s shirt, slow but sure.
Tony flattens a palm against the front door for a minute, trying to catch his breath and steady his hands.
“We can’t do this on the porch.” Steve says, low and warm, and Tony can hear his fucking smile as he closes the last fraction of an inch between them.
“Christ.” Steve’s left hand is flirting with his waistband now. Tony can’t remember ever being this turned on in his entire life, and that includes some fairly memorable shit. This is can’t-even-make-it-into-the-house-to-make-out-on-the-first-date bad. Tony can’t even think about reciprocating when he’s trying to catalogue Steve’s hands and his mouth.
“Too soon?” Steve asks, hands stilling, and Tony finally gets enough blood redirected to his brain to get the door unlocked, and open.
“We’ve been pseudo-dating, you know that I know that, right?” Tony says. He turns to face Steve, getting a good handful of the hem of his t-shirt and backing them both into the house. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
“I-” Steve starts, unsure. “You-”
“Ice cream, antique shopping, coffee every other night.” Tony lists. “Technically this is our eleventh date. If anything, I’ve been very, very patient with you Steve Rogers. I’ve been waiting for you to make a move for weeks. That’s practically long-con for me, you know.”
“I wanted to take you out first.” Steve says shyly, and Tony actually believes him.
“And you have and it was very nice and I even let you pay and walk me to the door, you old fashioned bastard.” Tony replies, kicking the front door shut. “But if you don’t take me upstairs right this instant I refuse to go on anymore ice cream runs with you.”
“Thank God.” Steve breathes, rushing at Tony all over again. “Ice cream was a terrible idea.”
Tony laughs, hands reaching for the hem of his own shirt. “You were so obvious, but I didn’t want to rush you into it.”
“Not my best idea.” Steve agrees, struggling to follow along and work the buttons on his dress shirt as Tony climbs the stairs.
“Dinner was nice.”
“You complained about the sand the entire time.” Steve says, dropping his shirt carelessly as he takes the stairs two at a time to catch up to Tony. “Next time I’m taking you to a nice place.”
“Next time.” Tony echoes as Steve backs him against the wall at the top of the steps. He reaches for Steve’s belt to speed things along. “I’m taking you out.”
Steve ducks down and they’re kissing again, Tony backing Steve up with careful steps. It’s deeper now, the urgency picking up again as they get closer to their destination. Steve’s belt finally gives way with a quick snap, and Tony tosses it into the hallway as he works his pants and shoes off as quickly as he can while Steve does the same.
“Yeah?” Steve’s voice is choked as he watches Tony lick at his own hand.
“Wine and dine, baby.” Tony says, grinning, taking them both in hand as Steve muffles a groan against his neck. Steve is hot and hard against him, and Tony’s eyes flutter closed at the first few strokes, completely silent until Steve turns his head to bite at Tony’s neck.
“Tall buildings and ten course meals. Wine older than I am.”
“I want to give you everything.” Tony twists his hand again, on the verge of too rough for comfort in an attempt to temper his words.
Steve retaliates by fitting his hands under Tony's thighs and lifting him effortlessly until his back is pressed against the wall in the bedroom. It all happens in the span of seconds.
"God," Tony gasps, wrapping his legs around Steve. "Little warning next time?"
"You liked it." Steve smiles before settling a hand between the wall and Tony's back. "Right?"
"Does this look like I don't like it?"
"Well-" Tony can't work a hand between them anymore - they're pressed too close now and the angle isn't right - but he can push forward just enough to get Steve to kiss him again quiet again.
It's good. Tony's had weeks to imagine what Steve would be like, where they'd start, but the real thing is so much better. He lets Steve set the pace. Easy and familiar until his hand wanders from it's place on the small of Tony's back, to cup his ass. Tony's shoulders are the only part of him touching the wall now as they push against each other.
"You're gonna be bad for my health."
Steve laughs, and the angle finally becomes something Tony can work with. He works a hand between them, and Steve groans against his neck, pushing further into his hand until they're both gasping.
Steve wakes up and can’t remember where he is. The pillow isn’t his, and the bed isn’t quite right and he’s pinned under something.
But when he turns his head, Tony is sleeping with one arm thrown around his waist. As Steve shifts, Tony does, too. He makes a face and moves until he’s flat on his back, his head turned towards Steve, hand outstretched. The blankets pushed down around his hips.
It’s Sunday. Steve doesn’t have work, but he feels like he could run a few good miles before the sun makes the day unbearable. He’s fully awake, now, and it would be damn near impossible for him to fall back asleep the way Tony just did.
He settles against the pillow again. Tony’s face is slack in sleep, untroubled. He’s pulled Steve into his orbit in no time at all, and now they’re here. And Steve is so insanely, perfectly happy for the first time a light wind could probably sweep him away.
Of course, this is when Steve notices the scar.
In the dark of the house last night, Steve hadn’t noticed, but in the morning light it’s obvious. Like a sunburst, the pale pink lines are spread out on his collarbone in stark contrast. Something about it tickles the back of Steve’s mind, begs to be understood.
A hundred things flit through Steve’s mind. Tony never giving his last name out during their introduction. Tony shying away from personal details and public places. Tony waking up swinging when Steve tried to get him to bed. The sunglasses and the baseball cap and the careful glances.
Tinkering. Dead ends.
In hindsight, it’s so obvious he wants to laugh.
He’s in bed with Tony Stark.
Tony Stark writes his name on skyscrapers. Tony Stark designs cars that look like spaceships and weapons that win wars. Tony Stark is a billionaire, a genius.
Tony Stark drools on Steve’s shoulder.
He leans up, cradles the back of Tony’s head as he presses his lips to the corner of Tony’s mouth. His hair is ruffled from sleep, and incredibly soft. Steve chances smoothing it down a bit before pulling away again.
Tony makes a small noise in the back of his throat when Steve moves around, but otherwise he falls back asleep without much of a fuss, leaning into Steve’s touch.
Steve has a moment of perfect clarity where he realizes that Tony Stark is going to leave him somewhere down the line. There’s no way he can hold onto a force like that and tie it down.
It’s just not possible.
But he holds onto Tony until they both wake up a little more, and then he trips and stumbles his way into the kitchen for coffee and tentative kisses over the refrigerator door as Tony tries to reach for the half and half.
Steve pulls back, smiling, and Tony’s eyes are still closed for a fraction of a second and Steve realizes that he’s already made peace with Tony leaving.
They have four weeks of bliss before there’s a knock at the new front door.
Steve frowns before turning the stove off and finding a shirt. He’s shrugging into it when the knocking starts up again. Louder this time.
“Alright, alright,” Steve says under his breath as he reaches for the door knob and starts to pull the hem of his shirt down. “Keep your pants on.”
A sharply dressed woman almost hits him in the face when she starts to knock again, and she pulls back, assessing him, before collecting herself. It happens in a fraction of a second, barely a blink, and it’s gone.
And Steve knows, instantly, that this is the woman that’s come to sweep Tony back to perfect ties and tall towers.
“You must be Miss Potts.” Steve says with a small, bittersweet smile, and when the corner of her mouth ticks up, he opens the door and steps aside. “Coffee?”
“You know everything and yet I’m positive he hasn’t told you.” Pepper remarks after being led through the foyer to the kitchen.
“It wasn’t rocket science.” Steve sighs, thinking about dragging Tony to bed four hours previously and watching him sleep and wondering if he was ever going to come clean.
It doesn’t matter. Pepper’s here because Stark Industries requires Tony’s immediate attention.
“You never said anything.”
Steve shrugs. “He’ll tell me when he’s ready.”
“His flight leaves in an hour.” Pepper says, clear-eyed and honest as she meets Steve’s eyes even though she’s toying with the handle of her mug. “The vultures will probably be here in three.”
They sit in silence, the clock ticking every last second of Tony’s time away brutally while Steve sits and stares at the green paint flecked on his hands. Two minutes pass before he pushes his chair away from the table and stands. He means to ask Pepper to take care of Tony, but she sent him here because she knew and she’s taking him back because she knows.
There’s really no point in asking her to do the job she’s been doing for years.
“It was nice meeting you, ma’am.” Steve says, shakes her hand when it’s offered. “I’ll let myself out.”
The front door doesn’t whine when Steve pulls it shut.
The first week is the worst.
The press is still in the area, waiting for any scraps of information they can wrestle away from the people living in the beach town Tony Stark escaped to find his footing again. They camp outside Steve’s house and in front of the bakery. It’s impossible to avoid them and their cameras and their questions.
Tony is long gone, swept away by one of his private jets in the space of an hour. He’s called twice.
Town shouldn’t feel empty without him, Steve thinks, and yet it does. Everything is a little quieter, a little colder as winter edges closer.
Two weeks pass. On his way back from his morning jog, Steve gets a text.
Might want to turn the TV on. - Pepper
He frowns at his phone as he climbs the stairs and opens the door. He’s home alone now that Sarah’s working full time and he doesn’t see the harm in playing along.
Pepper doesn’t text back but she doesn’t need to.
The local news channel is showing national footage of the Stark Industries press conference in New York.
Tony gets on stage long enough to announce that he’s shutting down weapons manufacturing and research until further notice. The shocked silence lasts a handful of seconds before the assembled media starts clamoring for answers.
Tony leaves the stage. He doesn’t take any questions.
Pepper didn’t explain what was going on when Tony left, but Steve had just assumed that it was important.
He didn’t realize Tony was planning on flipping Stark Industries on it’s head.
Steve starts packing
His place is covered in a fine layer of dust.
It's funny, how the small things can add up over time and become something else entirely.
Flicking the lights on for the first time in months is enough to wake him up. His jacket finds it's usual rung on the coat rack, and his keys find their ring next to the door. The kitchen window is closed against the chill, and there are a handful of dishes in the draining rack. The easel is still waiting, patiently, in it's corner by the bookshelf.
It seems terribly lonely.
Steve locks the door behind himself and considers going to bed early. It was a long drive back to New York, and traffic wasn't kind.
But it's only seven.
Unpacking doesn't take long. Cleaning out the meager remnants in the fridge eats less time than unpacking did, and soon enough Steve is holding his phone and staring at the easel and thinking about landscapes while he's waiting for Tony to text him back.
"Just sit down, and start." Steve mumbles to himself and finally makes a break for the easel.
It starts as a waterfall, but then someone is standing under it in a pool of water; their hands folded against the back of their head, their face tilted up into the spray.
Steve trashes that one before his phone buzzes in his pocket.
sry board meeting. glad u made it on the deathtrap :)
There's only a trickle of annoyance at Tony's teasing that fades as soon as Steve remembers how it'd felt. Tony warm against his back, his hands confident and perfect against Steve's ribs as the wind tore at their hair and their clothes.
He remembers the calm, easy silence that had settled over them both.
you loved the deathtrap.
The answer comes back immediately.
loved the ride
And the worst part is, Steve knows exactly what he means by it.
Steve is dressed in his best suit and his newest shoes for the showing. It's a mistake, because the shoes aren't broken in. Aren't even remotely close to being broken in.
Steve's feet hurt and he's happy that his pieces are together in one place with the right audience. He's happy that people are enjoying them.
Steve would just rather not.
Funny, he can't remember Sarah ever eating brownies even after she got the recipe just the way she wanted it.
So, Steve's feet hurt and he's trying to hide his discomfort from the wonderful patrons who are all smiling and genuinely thrilled with his work. The smile he has plastered on feels fake, stretched too thin.
He grabs some champagne from one of the passing servers and puts himself in a corner with his back to the wall before downing the contents of the glass in one go.
It's not what he wants, but he doubts he'll find anything stronger here.
"Landscapes." A familiar voice calls from Steve's right. "I assumed you were joking."
"Nick." Steve doesn't stand, waiting for Nick to sit on the bench before extending a hand. "It's good to see you."
"Likewise. Although I have to say I didn't expect to hear from you quite so soon."
Steve lifts one shoulder. "Circumstances changed."
"I'm glad they did." Nick nods at the exhibit. "Who is he?"
"You know, people keep asking me that." Steve says, eyes on the marble floor. "But the truth is, I don't really know."
Nick is always serious, but tonight he’s obviously curious. "Not a model, then."
Steve shakes his head.
"Well," Nick stands up, gestures to the exhibit. "Shall we?"
It's tradition to take Nick through the exhibit and explain which pieces are for sale and which ones aren't, but Steve is just too tired, too worn down for it tonight. "Take your pick. Anything except 'Jade'."
Nick hums with a reserved smile. It's as close to excited as Steve's ever seen him, and that's saying something. "I'll be back."
Steve plays nice with an older couple, swapping his empty glass out for a fresh one twice before Nick comes back.
Nick Fury has been following him since he started showing right out of art school at a dingy little place in the middle of nowhere. Steve doesn't really care what people think of his work, but Nick has always been honest with him, and Steve values his opinion. Always has.
"What happened?" Is the first thing out of his mouth after he's pulled Steve aside with a polite excuse.
"What?" Steve asks, baffled. "I-"
"Steve." Nick says firmly. “Don’t bullshit me.”
"I had some trouble, at first." Steve admits. "Couldn't get back into the swing of it. And then." And then, what?
"You met him."
Steve feels all the air go out of him in a rush, and he feels better now that the words are out there. "Yeah."
"Where is he?" Nick asks, searching his face.
Steve smiles. It's real, but it's a sad, twisted thing. "I don't know."
The chatter of the room carries on around them and Steve shifts on his feet uneasily before Nick just sighs and comes out with it. "I can't buy any of these."
Steve tries not to let it bother him, but it does. He's not in it for the money - although, admittedly, it does keep food on his table and a roof over his head - it's the principle of the thing. He's made something and for a handful of hours it's put on display for people to enjoy and talk about and ruminate over before going on with their lives.
But Steve feels like he's been slapped in the face.
"Oh," He says, because he's been saying it all night in different ways. Some people are confused by the change, and they're being fairly vocal about it. Everyone does landscapes, or so he's been told. It shouldn't surprise him that Nick is of the same opinion. "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way-"
"No, Steve." Nick says, unhurriedly. "It's not that I don't want to buy them, I do."
"Yes. I'd like to buy the entire collection. They're your best work."
Steve stares at him, confused. "But-"
"They're obviously very, very personal." Nick continues. "I don't know who the man pictured is, but I do know that you painted him like you love him, and I can't take any of that in good faith. Even if I was paying for it."
"I don't understand."
Nick just nods patiently. "Come on. Show me what you couldn't sell me."
Steve's feet lead him to the center of the room and then they're standing in front of 'Blue'.
Nick crosses his arms over his chest, doesn't say anything for so long Steve doesn't really know what he's doing. He knows the lines and the colors. He's the one that willed this piece into existence.
"Stop that." Nick says, and Steve glances at him. "Don't overanalyze the setting, look at the man in the setting."
It's Tony - they're all Tony. The first is of Tony walking away on the sidewalk, hand raised, two fingers up in a silent goodbye, suit jacket perfectly pressed against his shoulders. The sunglasses just barely visible on the top of his head. A casual viewer could imagine that he was just another person among the crowd on the sidewalk, but Steve knows better. There's another of Tony sitting alone on the beach in the early morning light, hair tousled, one leg folded underneath him. That one was drawn as if Steve was standing behind Tony, his face isn't visible but he's the center-point.
There are many more scattered around the room. Tony in the dark of the living area, the floor like black glass, and the corner of his grin is just barely lit up in every shade of blue Steve could get his hands on. His eyes are closed, and he looks happy as he reaches up to something - to someone - in the dark to his right, palm open. Teal pours out of it in spirals, falling towards the floor.
But this one Steve spent more time on than any of the others, nailing down the exact colors and the perfect lines. Tony is sitting at the top of the freshly painted steps in the evening light, dressed in a plain shirt and dark jeans. The house looks brand new, and Tony looks clear-eyed and alive and weightless, caught in looking up at someone on the sidewalk and grinning like he knows them inside and outside and upside down. Like he cares.
Steve’s chest aches.
"They’re not landscapes, Steve. They’re portraits." Nick says. "You've written your life with him into this whole collection. From beginning to end. From where you start to see him, to where you see nothing else. Even if I just took one.."
"Would take a piece of the puzzle away." Steve finishes unhappily.
"It’d fuck up the whole picture. And I don’t mean to get in your business," Nick starts. "But letting someone you love so intensely slip out of your hands would be a goddamn tragedy."
His point made, he reaches out for Steve's hand again. "Maybe next time, Steve."
It goes to voicemail, the first time, and he hangs up before the automated voice gets to Tony’s portion of the message. Steve paces in the shelter of the bus stop, curses.
The second time, he waits.
“Tony,” Steve starts, and then pauses, looking up into the hazy light of the city. “‘Whatever I want’.” Steve laughs and it hurts. “You. I want whatever you’ll give me, Tony. I want all of it, all of you. What do you want?”
He hangs up before he blurts out anything else.
Tony is standing on his top step when he gets back.
Steve is so dumbstruck by it he doesn’t ask how Tony found his apartment or why he’s shown up now of all times.
“I’m an ass.” Tony says, and he’s soaked through what looks like thousands of dollars worth of tailoring. “You don’t want this.”
Steve does his best to shoulder past into the apartment without touching Tony. “Well, you got the first part right.”
Tony doesn’t try to come in the apartment. Doesn’t even try to appear curious. His eyes are glued to Steve. “I can’t have what I want because the board is trying to prove that I’m not fit to run my own company. Apparently my decision to lead us in a direction for clean energy is ‘reckless’ and ‘irresponsible’. I have to play along until-”
“How long.” Steve says.
Tony shifts on Steve’s doorstep. “What?”
“How long do you have to play along?”
“A few weeks.” Tonys says with a wet shrug. “Maybe more I don’t know.”
“Tell me it wasn’t just..” Steve trails off, unsure how to word it and unwilling to say it at the same time.
“I was at a thing, you know.” Tony gestures at the suit. “And then you asked me what I wanted and I-”
Steve doesn’t let him get any further. He reels Tony in with both hands, sealing their mouths together. Tony gets with the program immediately, kisses back just as fiercely as Steve does, holds on just as tight.
When the break apart, Steve smiles a little. Tony frowns at him.
“What. What is it.” Steve starts laughing. “Now I know for a fact I’m not that bad of a kisser. Why are you doing that.”
“You want this to work.” Steve says simply, bussing Tony’s cheek before pulling away. “I’ll wait.”
Tony makes a face, looks at the puddle he’s leaving on the hardwood floors. “Christ. This is crazy. Are you sure? No, you can’t be sure you have no idea what you’re walking into.”
Steve resists the urge to beg him to stay, to say to hell with the board. If Tony needs him to wait, he can. He will. “I’m sure.”
Two months later Steve gets a text with an address from Pepper.
Steve's not afraid of much, but he does have to shore himself up as he stands in front of Stark Tower.
It’s huge. Intimidating comes to mind. So does extravagant and outrageous.
He doesn't even know if Tony is here. Maybe he's at home?
Is here, home?
Steve sighs. The receptionist is starting to glance at him with suspicion. It'd probably be better for everyone if he just got ahold of himself and took the plunge.
"Zucchini." He mutters under his breath feeling ridiculous as he pushes the wide glass door open. "He's your zucchini, Rogers."
"Welcome to Stark Tower, I'm Amy." The receptionist says cheerfully. "Do you have an appointment?"
Steve most definitely does not have an appointment. "Uh, no. I don't think so."
"Alright." Amy taps away at her computer. "Would you like to make one?"
"Sure." Steve didn't think he'd be able to barge his way in to see Tony anyway. Tony Stark is a busy man with an enormous company in deep turmoil to run. Steve shouldn't have shown up without making a phone call, at least.
"I have a spot open for.." Amy squints at the screen. "A year tomorrow."
Steve looks at Amy as he tries to decide if waiting a year for an audience with Tony - the same man who drooled on his shoulder and complained that his coffee wasn’t hot enough barely two months ago - is just a stunt to get people to leave Tony alone. Amy stares back impassively before the elevator doors slide open and a voice tumbles out.
"Yeah, that's not gonna happen."
"Mr. Stark." Amy says.
"Amy, darling," He's confident, here. Poised in a way he wasn't before as he steps out of the elevator and into the lobby. He's also avoiding looking at Steve. "I thought I was Tony now?"
"A year for an appointment? Really?" Steve asks, and now he has Tony's undivided attention. "Is this like a March 31st thing? Or are you really that busy?"
Tony cracks a little smile. "To be fair, it usually works."
Not this time, Steve thinks, taking Tony in. Not even close.
"Lunch?" Tony is moving his hands, his eyes are darting all over the place. He's antsy. "There's a great pizza place two blocks from here."
"Not gonna invite me up to your fancy clubhouse?"
Tony stills. "If you want."
"Sure." Steve offers, because Tony looks like he needs something, anything, from Steve to move forward. "I'd love to."
The elevator Tony leads them to is sleek and modern and a little daunting. Tony presses a button with a number that seems too large to be in an elevator. Steve tries not to think about it.
"So." Tony starts when they've climbed twenty floors.
Tony scratches at the back of his head, and leans against the railing of the elevator. "Just in the area?"
"No.” He considers bringing up Pepper, and then decides against it. Steve lets them climb a couple more floors before he can’t keep it in anymore. “I think I’m in love with you.”
In his defense, it’s really good to see Tony again in person instead of watching the news and seeing his face plastered everywhere or looking up in the grocery store to find his name splashed on most of the tabloids. Here, Tony has grease on the inside of his arm and above his right eye and he’s so painfully real and incredibly close Steve is having a hard time not taking advantage.
“That’s, uh.” Tony swallows hard. “That sounds pretty inconvenient, for you. I mean, I’m a hot mess on a good day, you know that. Not sure what it is about me that screams ‘relationship material’, but I’m really, really not. And you’ve got the art thing going again, which is great, by the way. You don’t need-”
“Tony, are you trying to talk me out of loving you?”
“Statistics are black and white on this one. JARVIS has the actual stats, but I’m confident you would be better off if you just went outside and picked a random person off the street.”
It startles a laugh out of Steve. He’s pictured telling Tony how he felt since he realized it, and it never went anything like this in his head.
This is the one scenario he didn’t plan for, but, then again. he’s always had trouble pinning Tony down.
The elevator dings and the doors open but neither of them move.
“Listen, Steve, it’s ..complicated.”
“So use small words and leave out the advanced physics.” Steve takes a step closer and it’s so good to see him. So good to be this near to him again Steve has a hard time breathing. “And I’ll try my best to keep up.”
“I’m a mess, Steve.”
“I know. You lied to me.”
Steve holds up a hand. “You lied by omission, Tony, and I understand why you did it. I just wish..” He breaks off. If wishes were fishes beggars would ride, and there’s no sense in wishing for something already lost. “I just need to know why.”
“Come with me.” Tony’s hands are down at his sides, just barely shaking as he pushes past Steve out of the elevator.
Steve follows Tony down a sleek hallway with several sets of sliding doors, and then, finally, he’s standing outside of their destination as Tony presses his hand to what Steve thought was glass and leans forward until the door opens.
When Tony said that he ‘tinkered’, Steve had pictured lots of different things. Welding, maybe. Small engine repair.
Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined Tony working in a place like this.
Steve realizes he’s staring, but he just can’t make himself stop. Tables are littered with all sorts of objects in various stages of production. Steve couldn’t even identify what half of the tools here do.
And Tony seems so.. at home. He’s rummaging through a pile, mumbling something under his breath.
He comes up with a long sheet of thin paper rolled up, and the look on his face is warning enough.
He crosses the room again and searches Steve’s eyes for a moment before holding out the paper. “Open it.”
Steve takes the paper, tentatively. Starts to untie the string. “What is it?”
Tony waits until he’s got the paper open and then he takes a deep breath as Steve makes a low noise in his throat. “That’s the tech Obie tried to take.”
It’s a sketch of a suit of some sort. A perfect circle lays dead center. It reminds Steve of a knight’s suit of armor.
And, over the carefully drawn plans, blood is splattered in dark drops.
“It’s beautiful.” Steve breathes, because it is. The fine lines are a work of art. Steve can almost imagine touching the smooth surface.
Tony’s smile is soft and fleeting as he looks down. “Of course it is. I made it.”
“I wanted to fly. Like the Wright brothers, but without the bulk. A one man show.” Tony presses his right hand against his chest briefly, and that’s all Steve needs to know, really. The scar Steve remembers in the shadow of Tony’s room tells the story well enough.
Tony made something beautiful and powerful and one of the people he trusted the most tried to take it away from him. Tried, almost succeeded. The last few months have been about Tony taking everything back, turning the tables.
Steve forces his hands not to grip the paper too tightly as Tony talks about how he’s planning on using the technology. He tries to focus, but the idea that Tony has bled for this tech to stay his is too much. He forces himself to remember that Tony made it out alive. He fought back and he won.
“Dummy, no.” Tony says suddenly, mid-explanation. “Put that back.”
Steve whips around, following Tony’s line of vision.
“Bot for sale.” Tony says as the glass Dummy was setting down shatters, spattering something green over the table. “Scratch that. Bot free to good home. Any home, really. as long as he’s out of my hair in the next ten minutes.”
They both watch Dummy - a robot, Tony builds robots - attempt to clean up his mess. Steve shakes his head in wonder. “That’s more than tinkering.” He tips the plans towards Tony. “This is more than tinkering.”
Tony lifts one shoulder. “I make things.”
“Yeah, wow.” Steve shakes his head at the workshop, amazed. “You really do don’t you? You must be some sort of genius or something.”
Steve frowns at him. “If you’re such a technological marvel, why did you get into that fight with the washer?”
He’s silent for a minute, and then he squints at Steve. “Are you- You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”
“And the microwave.” Steve pauses, enjoying himself. “And I remember you having a one sided argument with the coffee pot at least once.”
“You’re teasing me. Mr. Rogers is teasing me. See if I come back to be your neighbor after this.”
Steve’s grin mirrors Tony’s, but it starts to slip as he tips his head to look at the tile under his feet and the last few months come back to the surface. “God, I missed you, Tony.”
“Hey, hey.” And Tony tugs gently on the edge of his leather jacket once, twice, before Steve tips his face up and then they’re kissing. Soft and easy, relearning each other.
“I’m sorry.” Tony whispers between kisses. “Shit, Steve. I’m sorry. I was going to call but then I backed out and-”
“It’s alright.” Steve says. “Well, it’s not, but I’ll let you make it up to me.”
Tony grins. “Whatever you want.”