Steve Rogers carried his cup of coffee from the kitchen to the recreational room. Pepper was sitting on a small ottoman, doing paperwork on her tablet as she watched the news. She looked up at him. “Hey.”
He smiled. “Morning.”
She patted the seat next to her. “Here, sit down. Tony’s press conference is about to start. He’ll be out to speak in about…” She checked her watch, then the time on the screen, and said, “one minute.” She gave him a smile as he sat down next to her. “Sleep well?”
He nodded as he swallowed a mouthful of coffee, then amended, “well… okay, I guess, it’s…” He cleared his throat. “It’s weird when he’s out of town, you know?”
Pepper smirked at him. “I know.” She was back to paperwork, but still talking. “The room seems empty, the bed seems bigger… then of course everything seems darker without Tony there.” She blinked. “That’s not a metaphor, it—”
“No, yeah, the um…” Steve tapped his chest. “Yeah, that was the first thing I noticed too.”
Pepper chuckled, shaking her head. “Oh Tony. He might be trouble, but I suppose he’s our bit of trouble.” She smiled. “Well, yours, I suppose.”
Steve snorted. “Oh, thanks, that’s awful nice of you, Pep.”
“Oh!” Pepper grabbed for the remote. “Here he is, hold on, let me just…” She turned up the volume as the announcer said Tony’s name and the camera panned to the side of the stage. The view screens buzzed with static, then cut to a backstage feed. Tony looked at the camera, removed his sunglasses, and…
Steve’s jaw dropped. “What is he doing?”
Pepper sighed, shaking her head and going back to the stock reports on her tablet. “He would appear to be… dancing.”
Steve Rogers. “But… why?”
Pepper half rolled her eyes. “Because he can,” she answered in the same breath that Natasha Romanov muttered, “because Stark’s an idiot.”
Steve smiled at her as she sipped at her cup of green tea and honey. “How you feeling? Any better?”
She sniffed hard and rubbed her nose as she shuffled toward the couch. Her hair was all askew and dark circles were under her eyes. “I think I’m past the worst of it.”
“No she’s not,” Clint said, also entering the room and ruffling her hair. “What she needs is more sleep and a…” He blinked at the television. “The hell?”
Steve motioned to the screen with his cup of coffee. “Tony’s press conference.”
Clint blinked. “The Stark Press Conference? Isn’t that supposed to be a big-wig professional hoo-hah?” He looked at the TV. “And he’s—?”
“Is that Tony dancing?” Everyone looked at where Bruce Banner stood in the doorway from the labs, his glasses pulled off his face and frowning.
Steve sighed. “Looks like it.”
“To Luther Vandross?”
Clint shrugged, sitting on the couch next to Natasha. “Least it’s not ACDC.”
Natasha groaned, curling a huge blanket around her shoulders and disappearing into the sofa. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
On the television screen, Tony turned mid-dance, looking directly at the camera while mouthing the words of the song and holding up one hand with a repulsor glove on before turning and dancing his way up the stairs of the press panel.
“Steve?” Pepper murmured from beside him.
She reached out and pushed his jaw back up, smiling at him. “Don’t lose your jaw, yes?”
Steve felt his face go red.
“You know you’re grinning like an idiot, yeah?” Clint asked as Natasha burrowed enough out of her blankets to look at him.
Steve felt all eyes of the room go to him, which only made the flush worse. He cleared his throat and he pointedly looked away from the screen. “He’s just… y’know how Tony is.”
Clint chuckled. “No, but you know how Tony is,” he said, winking. “Huh? Yeah? Am I right?”
“Clint,” Bruce said from the doorway. “Be nice.”
Clint smiled. “Always nice, Doc. Always.”
Steve was still bright red as Tony stood on the stage, signaling for the music to stop. Behind him, Rhodey and the other men there for the conference looked considerably less amused than those sitting in the rec room of Stark Tower. When the music cut out, Tony just stood a moment smiling at the audience. “Hey.”
The conference audience appeared to be less composed of colleagues and more filled with the avid Stark Fans—Iron Fans they’d taken to calling themselves since the Manhattan incident. And no sooner had Tony spoke one word to them than the entire ballroom started to scream.
“God, you’d think he was a rock star,” Natasha muttered.
Pepper sighed. “Well, he certainly thinks he is.”
Tony tried to hold his composure, but he laughed in spite of himself, soaking up the attention. He winked at someone off stage.
Steve didn’t notice the others glancing at him. Nor did he notice his grip had gone white-knuckled on his coffee mug.
“Aaaw,” Tony chuckled, regaining some semblance of composure, then in an utterly inappropriate voice, groaned, “aw yeeeeeeeah.” Before the girls could start screaming a second time, he continued, face constantly illuminated by the pop of flashbulbs from camera. “All right, quick, I have three questions.” He pursed his lips. “How much do I love you?”
“Oh God,” Pepper drawled, wanting to roll her eyes but not daring to take her eyes off the screen.
The crowd was screaming.
Tony just stood there, face unreadable save the attempt to keep from smiling. He gave a two-fingered kiss to the audience with his gloved hand before giving an enchanted little sigh. “Question number two!” He lowered his head and gave the audience a very suggestive sidelong look. “How much do you love me?”
The roar of the audience nearly destroyed the sound on the television, startling all of them. But it wasn’t nearly so startling as the sound of Steve Rogers cup shattering in his hand. He gasped as he spilled hot coffee all down his front and onto the floor. Steve looked down at his now-stained white shirt, shaking the glass and coffee off his hand as he stared at the mess he made. “Oh man,” he muttered.
Pepper did her best not to smile. “Don’t worry, Steve, I’ve got this,” she said, leaving her tablet to disappear into the kitchen.
Steve tried to ignore the smirk from Clint or the worried expression on Bruce’s face. He continued to listen to the girls screaming, watched Tony gnaw on his lower lip in an altogether too suggestive manner; let out an all-too-familiar sigh through an open mouth that meant he was, in fact, sated. Steve felt his jaw go tight.
Clint didn’t look away from the television. “Jealous, Rogers?”
Steve shook his head. “No.” In the same instant, he looked toward Clint, concern on his face. “Why, should I be?"
“Here we go,” Pepper said, returning with a handful of napkins. Bruce was across the room in the same moment, helping her mop up the coffee mess. She shook her head and eyed up his t-shirt. She couldn’t help but smile. “You’re going to want to go clean up, Steve.”
“Yeah,” he mumbled, watching as Tony introduced the footage for the new Stark projects. “Yeah, okay.”
Tony danced his way to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of scotch over ice. He’d arrived back in New York sometime around one in the morning, but he’d be damned if he could sleep. He was in too good of a mood. The conference had gone better than he could have hoped, and he had proved to Rhodey—once again—that it was possible to have a good conference without being boring as fuck.
He swirled his drink in his glass, turning around and nearly running directly into Pepper. He managed to turn his cup, not spilling so much as a drop. “Hey Mom,” he chuckled. “Didn’t I tell you not to wait up?”
Pepper rolled her eyes as he leaned forward and pecked her on the cheek. “Cute, Tony.
“Speaking of Tony, did you get to see the conference?” he asked, lifting his drink to his mouth.
“I watched some of it this morning with the team,” she said, pulling out her PDA.
Tony beamed. “What did they think?”
“Steve broke a cup.”
Tony considered this a moment, then nodded. “Eh, better than a spontaneous nose bleed, I guess.”
Pepper gave him a look. “That’s not why he broke the cup.”
“Then why’d he break the cup—?”
“You know why he’d break a cup—”
“—well, obviously I don’t because I’m asking—”
“—you were in public, jerking off your ego in front of a crowd—”
“—it’s called showmanship—”
“—it’s called irresponsible, you’re in a committed relationship—”
“—Steve knows it’s just an act—”
“—clearly he doesn’t, if he did he wouldn’t have broken a cup—”
“—oh, so this is my fault?”
“No, I’m just saying—”
“—really, cause it sounds an awful lot like you’re saying it’s my fault—”
“No! I’m just saying that—”
“—it’s just acting. It’s just putting on a good show and—”
Pepper pressed a hand over Tony’s mouth. “God! Can you shut up for five seconds?!” she gasped, rubbing her temple with her free hand. “Look, I’m not the one you need to explain yourself to, okay? Go talk to Steve.”
Tony made a face. “He’s not going to do that puppy-thing is he? Was he doing the puppy thing?”
“What puppy thing?”
“The face. The, ‘you-kicked-my-puppy’ face. I hate that face.”
Pepper snorted. “He’s actually taken it like a champ. I think, if anything, it’s just a case of a little bruised ego.”
Tony smirked. “You saying I should go stroke his ego? Or are you, uh… saying I should stroke his—”
“Good night, Tony,” Pepper said, patting her hand on his cheek before walking away.
Tony took a mouthful of scotch, let it burn down his throat. He topped off the glass and started toward his room.
“Jarvis, leave the lights off.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
Tony slipped into the darkness of the bedroom, setting his cup on the vanity on the far end of the room and starting to undress. The bedside lamp clicked on and Tony blinked at the unexpected light.
Steve squinted in his direction, half rolling over on the bed to see him. “Didn’t think you’d be home until tomorrow,” Steve murmured, rubbing his eyes and stretching.
“Didn’t want to stay away longer than I had to,” Tony said, draping the golden tie over the back of a chair. He glanced back to see Steve pushing himself out of bed and shuffling towards him. Tony unfastened his cufflinks and set them into the small glass dish on the table. He smiled as Steve pressed up against his back. He slid his arms around Tony’s middle, pulled him close and kissed the top of his head. Tony began unfastening his shirt. “Miss me?”
“Pep said you kids caught the press conference this morning.”
There was an awkward pause from behind him. “Is that all she said?”
“There was something else, too,” Tony said, turning in Steve’s arms to face him. He couldn’t resist a smirk. “Something about you owing me a mug?”
Steve winced. “She told you.”
“Oh yeah,” Tony chuckled, nodding.
Steve took in a deep breath, laughing in spite of himself. “Well, now I just feel like an idiot.”
Tony smirked and stepped out of Steve’s arms. He shrugged off the suit jacket and began unfastening the buttons of his shirt. “You want to talk about it?”
Steve leaned on the vanity. “Not really.”
Tony gave him a sidelong glance. “Did you really get that worked up over a little bit of crowd-hustling?”
Steve looked at the ceiling then back at Tony. “It was a little inappropriate, don’t you think?”
“It was just in fun, Steve.”
“Okay,” Steve mumbled, and it seemed the conversation was over.
Tony shrugged off the red shirt, eyes never leaving Steve. “Oh my God, she was right!” he gasped. “You’re seriously worked up over this, aren’t you?”
Steve scoffed. “Wh… no, I’m… I’m fine, Tony, really—”
“It’s just a game—”
“So why are you all uptight?”
“M’not uptight, I just—”
Tony’s hands went up to Steve’s shoulders, gave them a feel. “You’re super uptight. More uptight than usual. Do you need a drink? I can go mix you a drink if you—”
“—we’ve had this conversation before, Tony, I—”
“—can’t get drunk, right, sorry.” He took a deep breath. “Look, Steve… I’m sorry, okay?”
Steve gave a little laugh. “N… no, Tony, I don’t… I don’t think you understand the meaning of sorry. It’s not just feeling bad, real sorry means it’s not going to happen again, and…” Steve shrugged. “Just… don’t make promises you’re not going to keep, okay?”
“Steve,” Tony said, catching his face with one hand as he turned back to go to bed. “Steve, hey, hold up just…” He swallowed. “Look, out there on the stage, right? It’s a game. It’s… it’s not me. This? Me being here, this is me. This is what I want, what I’ve chosen. I’m going to pick you over them all day, every day.” He smiled. “I wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case.”
Steve tried to hold back his smile, but was failing. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying you’re the best, most important thing in my life,” Tony said with a shrug. He snorted. “God, do I have to spell it out for you?”
Steve smirked, giving Tony a little punch in the shoulder, starting toward the bed. “Apology accepted.”
“Good,” Tony chuckled, stripping off his undershirt. He stared at the wad of cotton fabric in his hand and smiled. “Hey, Rogers,” he said, tossing it at Steve’s head.
The shirt hit Steve squarely in the back of his head, and he stopped. He turned to face Tony with a chuckle. “Yeah?”
“Question one,” Tony said, walking toward him, unfastening the belt on his trousers. He gave him a look that was less ‘sexy’ and more ‘Zoolander.’ He stroked his hands down his bare chest, and in a deadpan, asked, “how much do you love me?”
Steve smirked, eyeing up Tony as he walked toward him. He pressed a finger to the glowing reactor in Tony’s chest. “Uh, more than you deserve,” he chuckled.
Tony made the ‘not-bad’ face and nodded. “Okay, fair enough.” He pulled off his belt with a dramatic flair, held it over his head like a trophy then dropped it on the floor. “Question two,” he said, stepping forward until they were nearly chest to chest. He watched the flush run from Steve’s neck to all cross his face and arms. He gave Steve a wicked smile, going up on his tip-toes until their lips nearly touched. “How much do I love you?”
Steve’s breath was low and ragged, his lips trembling. His eyes searched Tony’s face. “Is this a test?”
“You bet your sweet assicle it is,” Tony chuckled, hooking a finger in the collar of Steve’s undershirt and pulling him down, kissing him hard. Steve’s arms found Tony’s middle and it wasn’t long before Tony’s dress pants were being thrown across the room along with the last of their clothing, and they’d made their way to the bed.
Underneath all performing and dancing and hijinks, Tony wished he was better at telling Steve how little these events meant to him. At the end of the day, it was all an act. But this? This was never anything less than one-hundred percent. There was no one else he cared for like this. And there was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be.