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so you could be king

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They meet at an awards show.

-

Steve is uncomfortable in a tie. Sam, his publicist, tried to convince him to wear a cowboy hat, but it took two seconds for Peggy to shoot that particular idea down.

He pulls at the collar, the vivid image of a dancing monkey in his head

"Stop that," Bucky elbows him in the side. They're all there - Sam, Peggy, Bucky and Sharon. A table mostly to themselves, with some preppy pop star, barely a teenager, and her team. (Steve has already tried to make polite conversation with her, but she was too busy reapplying her lipstick and tweeting something with a picture of her surroundings.)

"I don't know," Peggy is saying to Sharon. "Maybe we shouldn't publicise your break up..."

"But he's becoming famous now!" Sharon implored. "There were paparazzi outside my door, Peggy!"

"I know," Peggy rubs her forehead. "But the teenage girl demographic isn't one we can afford to alienate."

Steve can't help but feel guilty. Of course, it wasn't his idea to have Sharon pose as his girlfriend to cover his preferred orientation, but it had just been one photo, taken at a friendly lunch and blown out of proportion.

"Look," Sharon said in her best compromising voice. "I'm not saying tonight, or even this week. But it's ruining my credibility at SHIELD. Some jumped up intern tried asking me what Steve was like in bed!"

"We could break up," Steve offered.

Bucky gave him a withering look. "That's cute, Steve, but-" His voice was drowned out by the applause as the next performer took to the stage - Loki Laufeyson, the latest dubstep 'phenomenon'.

Sam groans. "This hurts my ears."

Steve peers at the stage. "Is he- I don't understand, he isn't doing anything."

"I quite like it," Sharon says. She shrugs when they all turn to stare at her. "What? He's better than some of the other dubstep going around at the moment."

Peggy rolls her eyes, but the corner of her lips are curving into a slight smile. "Right. Anyway, Steve, we'll discuss it more after tonight."

Steve sighs, the guilt not quite gone yet. "Right."

-

"For God's sake, I was at the fucking Grammy's last year!" Tony gestures wildly, hitting his hand against the car window. From the front, Happy raises an eyebrow which Tony scowls at.

"Yes, well, the Grammy's aren't so keen to have you back ever since you swore on stage." Pepper gives him a dark look.

"It wasn't that-"

"You told them they were fucked up for not nominating you for best song. For god's sake, Tony, you were up against Natasha Romonov and Bruce Banner, of course you weren't going to nominate you!"

Tony's scowl deepens. He looks at the time. "We're going to be late, anyway. There's no point."

"We're only an hour late," Pepper rolls her eyes. "By Tony Stark standards, that's positively early."

He crosses his arms.

"And don't sulk."

-

Rhodey meets them there - he wraps Tony in a quick hug and then holds him at arm's length, clearly assessing him.

Tony feels himself bristle. "I'm sober, Rhodey," he snaps.

"Yeah," Rhodey looks at him with an unreadable expression. "That's what you said last time."

Last time. Last time, as in, the bender Tony went on after Tiberius' death. The one where, if he were anyone else, he should've completely screwed up his career, and his life. God knows if he fails now, he'll be in crisis, considering the debts he can barely pay back and the press hounding at his door, hoping for another breakdown if they shout the right insult.

Tony sighs. "Yeah, I get it." He doesn't deserve the logic and organisation provided by Pepper and Rhodey, he really doesn't.

He claps his hands together as the flash of cameras welcome him onto the carpet leading to the doors. He pulls his sunglasses out of his pocket, but Pepper quickly snatches them away.

"What-"

"If you hide your eyes, they're going to think you're high," Pepper explains with a slight apologetic tone. She knows how much he hates this part, for all he plays up the showman attitude. "Sorry, but just smile and look pretty."

“Right,” Tony stretches out a smile. “Come on, then.”

-

“Isn’t there supposed to be a surprise performer tonight?” Steve asks, looking up onto the stage as Maria Hill accepts an award on behalf of Clint Barton (who couldn’t be there because of some better arrangement - Steve can’t blame him).

Bucky snorts. “Yeah, but everyone knows who it is.”

Steve frowns. “Who?”

Sharon rolls her eyes. “Jeez, Steve. It’s Thor.” At his blank look, she hits her forehead with the palm of her hand in jest. “Seriously, Steve. Thor Odinson. Part of the Warriors? They’re a band.”

“Oh. What kind of music?”

“Weird music,” Bucky supplies.

Peggy shoots him a glare. “Bucky, just because you’re a Luddite when it comes to music taste.” She makes a tutting sound, and explains to Steve, “They’re a new age rock opera kind of group.”

“Oh,” Steve says again.

He phases out a little bit, during some presenters doing a little comedic sketch (it isn’t funny because they’re both plastic and mean and everyone in the audience heard their huge argument during the rehearsal).

When he phases back in, Sharon and Bucky are laughing over something. Steve smiles automatically. “What is it?”

Bucky wipes a tear of laughter from his cheek. “There’s a website set up just for Sharon.”

Sharon smothers a smirk. Steve looks between them. “There is?”

“Steve, it’s not-” Sam tries to say, but Bucky quickly talks over him.

“Yeah, Sharon the slut dot com.” Both he and Sharon start laughing all over again.

Steve can’t figure out what’s so funny about it. “But... There’s a website just for calling you a slut?”

“Yeah!” Sharon grins. “It’s great, you should hear some of the posts. At one point, they talk about how the fact that I’m a blonde means that our babies will practically be incest. And then there’s an entire page of it that insults how I’m taking advantage of you because of my position of power. And then-” At this point, she starts laughing again, and Bucky has to finish for her.

“The administrator of the website - the, uh, manager,” Bucky adds for Steve’s benefit, “Says that obviously Sharon can’t pleasure you in bed, because that’s why you’re so good at guitar, you’ve had plenty of time to practise!”

Peggy seems to be the only one who’s noticed that Steve has gone rigid. “Steve, it’s not-”

“They’re writing all this stuff about you because they think you’re dating me?” Steve asks in a flat voice.  

Sharon sobers. “Come on, Steve, it’s funny.”

“No, it’s not.” Steve stands suddenly. “I’m going to, uh. I’m going to go get a drink.”

“Steve, they’re calling out your award in fifteen minutes!” Sam calls after him, just as Thor and The Warriors Three take to the stage.

But Steve just waves a hand at him as he walks away. “I’ll be back, don’t worry, Sam.”

-

Within the first thirty seconds of Thor’s performance, Tony mutters an excuse to Rhodey and Pepper and goes to find the bar. Sure, he likes the guy, Thor’s a blast. But there’s only so many weird techno rock that Tony can take.

He orders an apple juice, but makes the bartender put it in a tumbler and add some ice, ignoring the odd look he gets in return. He swirls it around, and tries to imagine it’s gin before taking a sip.

It’s not gin.

Being a recovering alcoholic is difficult.

He turns around and leans his back against the bar, still swirling the tumbler so the ice clinks together. He pulls out his sunglasses and, even though it’s already dim in the bar area, slips them on as protection against his ghosts.

-

Steve wanders over to the bar with his hands in his trouser pockets and his tie almost undone from the amount of times he’s fiddled with it.

He sees the other man at the bar, but it takes him a few seconds to recognise him. And because he has the grace and subtlety of a drunk Bucky, he blurts out, “Tony Stark!”

Tony looks around with a raised eyebrow over his sunglasses.

 

Steve mentally snorts at the sunglasses - he actually can’t think of many occasions where he’s seen Tony Stark without his sunglasses, in magazines and music videos. Well. Except for that whole breakdown, where sunglasses were only the first article of clothing to be lost.

“You’re that country kid, right?” Stark says.

“Yeah,” Steve says, without much else to say.

“Right.” Stark looks away, clearly already bored. He rolls his glass, and Steve wrinkles his nose up at it.

His brain-to-mouth filter always goes to hell when he’s mad, which is what he blames when he says, “You’re drinking?”

Stark freezes. Then, slowly, he turns, and fixes Steve with a killer-watt, shark smile. “Gotta stay alive somehow,” he says with a razor sharp tone of voice.

Then he swigs the whole drink down in one fast gulp, and slams it down, making a real theatrical point of it all. Steve finds himself bristling against the gesture, at the arrogance of it.

But then Stark walks away, with a lazy salute at the bartender and Steve.

Steve feels a rage boiling up in the curl of his belly, and he turns to the bartender. He jerks a thumb at Stark’s empty glass. “I’ll have whatever he had,” he says, thinking of how he’s supposed to go collect an award from the type of people who would give a
similar award to someone like Stark.

The bartender raises a wry eyebrow. “What, an apple juice?”

Steve frowns. “What?”

“He had an apple juice. You want something stronger?”

Steve is too busy staring at the empty glass. “Why would he...” He trails off, shakes his head at the bartender wordlessly, and goes back to his seat.

-

“And the Rising Star Award goes to...Steve Rogers!”

-
There’s someone running after him, but it’s distant to his ears.

Rhodey grabs at his shoulder. “Tony!”

“I just want to go home, alright?”  Tony snaps, as Happy drives up next the curb. He slams open the door and climbs in, leaving the door open so Rhodey and Pepper can decide whether they want to stay or go.

They clamber in after him (of course they do). Pepper sits opposite him, already typing away at her phone, and Rhodey shuts the door after them all.

“So,” Rhodey begins, as Tony stares out the window. “Who mentioned the alcohol?”

Tony looks at him sharply. “How do you-”

“Tony,” Rhodey says. “I’ve seen you with that kind of guilt only once before. So come on, tell me.”

Tony rubs a hand over his face. “I don’t know. Some blonde. In a suit.”

Rhodey snorts. “Gee, narrow it down for me.”

“He, uh, was pretty.”

“At a celebrity get together? Wow.”

“I don’t know! He, uh... I think he got an award? One just before I left.”

Pepper suddenly looks up. “Oh god. You’re talking about Steve Rogers, aren’t you?”

“Um.” Tony bites his lip. “Maybe? I’m really not sure.”

Pepper goes back to her phone, and Rhodey says, "Aw, sheesh. What did you say to him?"

"I didn't say anything!" Tony defends.

"Was it this guy?" Pepper holds up her phone, and yeah, it's the same guy from the bar, maybe with shorter hair and a little more photoshopped.

"Yeah."

Pepper sighs. "Yep, that was Steve Rogers. Not the best guy to get on the wrong side of, Tony."

"Why?" Tony asks, perhaps a tad aggressively. "What's so special about him?"

Pepper rolled her eyes. "He's the new star at SHIELD."

Tony snorts derisively."Right. Well, we'll see how long that lasts before Fury starts pimping him out."

"Tony..." Pepper warns.

"Pepper, I'm not going to suck up to fresh-faced brats, just because they're from the same record company I am."

"Maybe you need to suck up to them because they're on the up and you're on the down?" Rhodey offers. He holds up his hands in defence at Tony's responding glare. "What? I'm just saying."

"Yeah, well, don't."

-

At the after party, Steve spends thirty minutes looking for Stark, his guilt forcing his need to apologise. He blames the bitchy atmosphere of the show, and the anger left over
at the website.

He's still looking when he hears a loud, booming voice call out, "Steven Rogers!"

"Uh," Steve turns around to see a very large, blonde man heading towards him. "Thor, right?"

"Correct!" Thor reaches out and shakes Steve's hand vigorously. "It is a pleasure to meet you!"

"It's great to meet you too," Steve says, honestly meaning it. Okay, so Thor and The Warriors Three weren't exactly his speed, but that didn't mean he couldn't appreciate a talent when he saw one. "Hey, you're at SHIELD records as well, right?"

"Aye," Thor says, nodding sagely. "They have been very kind to me, and to the rest of my
band."

"The Warriors Three, right?" Steve asked. "Where are they?"

"They-" Then they both hear a loud whoop, and a crash from another room. Thor winces. "That would be them."

"Wow." Steve says. "I heard that they liked to party, but..."

Thor laughs. "They have many stories to be told from their adventures."

"What about you?" Steve asks. "Why don't you join them?"

He shrugs. "I used to. But now I have a wife, and close friends, and I have no need for wild nights."

"Oh," Steve says, and he's unsure what else to say so he regains his search for Tony, peering over peoples' heads.

"Who are you looking for, Steven?" Thor asks politely. "Perhaps I can help?"

"Uh," Steve's cheeks heat up. "Tony Stark. I offended him earlier, and, uh, I want to apologise."

"How honourable of you!" Thor claps Steve on the shoulder. "But I am afraid Tony isn't here."

Steve slumps in defeat. "But, I thought he went to all of the big parties."

"Not anymore, I don't think," Thor replies.

"Why not?"

Thor looks uncomfortable. "I am not sure I can say - I do not want to gossip." Then he brightens. "Come! If you are not looking for anyone else, you can come meet some more of our SHIELD brethren."

"Um," Steve tries to protest, but Thor drags him through some of the other party goers (one teen star gives him a dirty look at Steve's shoulder disturb his carefully arranged hair) until they reach two people. Steve recognises them both.

The redhead, in a sparkly black number that makes your manhood whimper just to look at her, quirks her lips as she sees them. Natasha Romonov, the singer/songwriter export from Russia.

"You brought a friend," she says. Her voice is surprisingly raspy, different from the
sweetness of her singing voice.

"Hey, who?" A bright voice joins her, and Clint Barton pops out from behind her.

"I thought you were at a different event," Steve says, confused.

Clint waves his hand. "I just didn't want another dummy award. I'm saving up for something that actually means something."

Natasha rolls her eyes. "Yeah, maybe when you stop releasing singles about calling people to have sex."

"Firstly, it's called Booty Call, you do it a great injustice, and secondly, that was from my first EP, it doesn't count." He points a warning finger at her. "And thirdly, it went platinum, so shut up."

Clint Barton, the cheeky solo artist who won over the hearts of America with his cool, clever pop music. Steve remembers his song, 'Bow and Arrow' playing when he entered SHIELD's reception for his first ever meeting.

Steve is slightly star struck by this point, he’ll freely admit.

Natasha rolls her eyes, and turns back to Steve. "Rogers, right?"

He nods, and Thor supplies, "He won the Rising Star Award!"

"I won that a couple of years ago," Clint comments. "So, hey, maybe there's hope for you yet."

Steve nods again; it sort of feels like his tongue has swollen up from social awkwardness. Typical - he can play venues with a thousand people, but he can't talk to two celebrities.

They don't seem to mind his quietness, however. Maybe it makes a change from the usual chatter they experience.

He finally finds his voice. "So, why do you come to these shows?" He asks Natasha, because if Clint is too good like a place like this, then Natasha Romonov certainly is.

She shrugs. "SHIELD's big on publicity."

"Very much so," Thor agrees. "They attempted to convince me to date a model because they wanted my face in more magazines." He sounded outraged at the very idea.

"Wow." Steve says. "They haven't asked me to do anything like that."

"I'm sure if you 'broke up' with Sharon, they would," Natasha offers.

Steve blinks, because by the emphasis, he's been rumbled. "How did you-"

"She does it with everyone," Clint assures him. "It's really annoying."

She elbows him, but he dodges out of the time just in time.

"Hey!" Clint exclaims playfully. Then he says to Steve, "But yeah, SHIELD are really keen on PR. You know Maria Hill had to go collect my award? I am going to get chewed out so bad when I have a board meeting with her next Monday."

"I have a board meeting with her too," Steve says. "On the same day, I mean."

"Huh," Clint says. "Maybe-"

"Me too." Natasha says, with slightly narrowed eyes like they're the ones intruding.

"I also have a board meeting on Monday," Thor frowns.

"By yourself?" Clint asks.

"Aye, the Warriors Three were not invited." Thor's frown deepens. "I assumed it was a meeting about the length of my hair again."

"They want you to cut it?" Steve asks.

"No," Thor says, and he doesn't elaborate.

There's an awkward silence, and Clint coughs. Then he pauses, squinting through the throng of people. "Isn't that Bruce? Bruce!" He calls, waving his hand in an obnoxious fashion. A couple of PR managers give him the stink eye.

A small man walks over, with brown curls and brown eyes. He pushes his glasses back up his nose, and because of them, it takes Steve a minute to recognise the man.

"Bruce Banner?" He says, his voice a shade on the embarrassing side of awe. His mother has Bruce Banner CD's littering her shelf, ever since he emerged five years ago with the first piano-only number one album, ever.

Bruce gives him a small, shy smile. It's hard to believe this is the same man who pounds the piano to football stadiums full of screaming fans, always wearing his famous green tie. "Hey, Steve, is it?"

"Yeah," Steve says faintly, wondering how much his mother is going to kill him if he doesn't get an autograph. Being the smooth, cool guy he is, he blurts out, "Why are
you wearing glasses?"

Bruce looks bashful. "I wear contact lenses on stage."

Steve's about to point out that Bruce wears them whenever he makes a public appearance, but then he realises the metaphorical implications behind Bruce's words, and he stays quiet.

-

Tony doesn't wake up with a hangover, but the relief doesn't stop the craving at the back of his throat.

Then he groans, and rolls over to bury his face in the pillow.

That big interview is today. The first one since Tiberius's death. He's sorely tempted to call in sick, but he knows they'll see that as what that excuse used to mean: still drunk from last night/weekend/hour.

-

It takes them two questions to ask the big one, the one Tony's been dreading for six months since he got out of rehab.

The two questions are: 'Are you ready?' and 'How are you?'. The second question, Tony barely gets time to use the smile he's been practising in the mirror for an hour beforehand before the third question is asked.

The interviewer is young and blonde: Christine Everhart, they tell him, the hotshot reporter for the hotshot music magazine promising the front page spread.

And the third question is: "Tony Stark, why did you make the decision to go to rehab?"

She asks it with a toothy smile that makes Tony definitely decide he's not even going to try to sleep with her.

He answers back with a smile best suited for a panther. "Well, Ms. Everhart, I guess there were a lot of reasons."

"Such as?"

"Such as my band mate and one of my closest friends dying. Such as having a break down and having it broadcasted it around the world. Such as having to look myself in the mirror." It all comes out in one big rush.

"Right. Tiberius Stone died of a heroin and ecstasy and alcohol overdose. Did you ever do drugs?" The way she asks it, it sounds like she already presumes the answer.

"No." He shakes his head, and then adds at her sceptical expression, "Really, I didn't. I couldn't sing if I got high."

"Of course."

And that's kind of how the rest of the interview goes.

-

About a month after the awards show, and about two months before his national tour starts, Steve sees the magazine on a street vendor's stall.

The front page's picture is Tony Stark, hair rumbled and brown eyes big (seriously Steve stop that it's creepy). The headline reads: 'Tony Stark: back for good?'

Steve buys the magazine, and starts reading it as he's walking to Sharon's house.

The gist of it is this: Tony Stark is clean and sober, and has been for six months, since leaving rehab.

Steve feels even guiltier. He didn’t actually think that was possible.

-

At Sharon's house, while she's brewing a coffee and telling him about the latest album she's working on for SHIELD (she's a producer, responsible for one of Natasha's hits as well as one of Clint's), his phone rings. He looks at the caller ID: it's Bruce.

He apologises to Sharon, and answers it. "Hello?"

"Steve," Bruce greets, a kind smile in his voice. "How are you?"

"I'm good, thanks," Steve replies. "And you?"

"Can't complain," he laughs. "So, listen, I'm having a little get together this Saturday
evening. You want to come?"

"Absolutely!" Steve says quickly - then he realises the dorkiness of that, and he coughs awkwardly. "I mean, sure. What time?"

Bruce sounds like he wants to laugh, but he kindly holds it back. "From six, and then leave whenever you want. It's at my house."

He tells Steve the address, and then, with a 'see you then', he hangs up.

Steve stares at the phone. "Oh my god," he says to Sharon. "Is this what being famous is like?"

-

Tony gets the call from Bruce just after a stupid-ass photoshoot (sure, he likes naked women as much as anyone, but he doesn't want them licking his shoulders while he pouts at some creepy old man).

“‘Ello?” He asks, not even bothering to look at called ID.

“Tony?”

“Bruce!” He sits back in the taxi. “How are you? How’s that piano? Have you learnt to play the electric keyboard yet? It’s way more fun.”

Bruce laughs. “I’m fine, the piano’s fine, and I’m sure it is, Tony. Anyway, can’t you play the electric keyboard?”

Tony shrugs, even though Bruce can’t actually see him. “Sure, but the guitar is where the real fun is.”

“Right.” Bruce says, still chuckling. This is why Tony like Bruce: genuine, funny, and he’s nice to Tony, even after everything that’s happened. “Well, anyway, I called you for a reason.”

“Oh?”

“I’m having a little get together, this Saturday. Want to come?”

Tony remembers Bruce’s ‘get-togethers’ the latest in the classical music world, and whatever friends Bruce had made that hadn’t already realised the kind of pretentious people that Bruce was the exception of. And yet, he hasn’t seen Bruce in ages, and quite frankly, he’s desperate to see a kind face again. So he says, “Sure. What time?”

-

Steve arrives at Bruce's house not quite sure what to expect. Sure, Bruce had said it was just a 'get-together', and okay, it was Bruce Banner, the easily overlooked, quiet
pianist, but you never knew with these celebrities and musicians.

He knocks on the door (the big door of the very big house) and Bruce opens it with a smile. "Steve!" He says. "Glad you could make it!"

Steve follows Bruce into the house, thinking to himself that he really does need to get that autograph for his mother.

-

Within a few minutes of arriving at Bruce's, Tony escapes to the kitchen to get away from all the snobs who think even breathing in the same air as Tony Stark will get their skin dirty.

Tony makes himself a glass of lemonade, something to hold to stop his hands reaching for the damn champagne glasses those fucking waiters keep teasing him with.

He takes a sip, staring at the fridge's photos. Most of them are of Betty and Bruce, together or seperate. Bruce, standing in front of fifty thousand applauding people. Betty, sitting on a park bench, slurping a milkshake and grinning at the camera. Bruce and Betty, on their wedding day.

"Oh." He hears, and he spins around to see a large blonde, out of place, standing at the other end of the kitchen. "I thought-" Then the guy frowns. "Tony Stark?"

At first, Tony's instinct is to assume it's just another fan or critic. But then he recognises that voice, and that face, and that confused expression. Tony's mood dips even further. He quirks an eyebrow, and takes a sip of his lemonade.

The guy straightens. "I think we got off on the wrong foot, and I want to apologise."

That - that wasn't what Tony was expecting, actually. He frowns. "You do?"

He nods decisively. "My mother always taught me to be open-minded and kind, and I'm afraid you caught me at a bad time. I jumped to conclusions, and I'm sorry."

Tony raises his eyebrows. "You jumped to conclusions? Who told you that?"

The blonde rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. "The bartender."

"Right." The name comes rushing back to Tony: Steve Rogers. "So why have you escaped here?"

Steve looks even more awkward, if that were possible. "I, uh, don't think this crowd are a big fan of me."

Tony shrugs. "They don't like me much either, if it helps. Then again," he tells his lemonade. "Not many people do."

Steve walks closer. "Sure they do. You make good music, everyone knows that."

Tony snorts in disbelief.

"It's true!" Steve says. "The first song I ever played to another person was a cover of one of your songs."

"Seriously?" Tony says, and pulls a face. "Now you're just making me feel old."

"It was only a couple of years ago." Steve admits.

"Who did you play it to?" Tony isn't sure why he's continuing the conversation, other than the obvious, physical desire underneath his skin.

Steve blushes. "My friend, Sharon. She's a producer over at SHIELD."

"No way!" Tony exclaims. Steve is close enough to touch now. "She's producing my new record!"

Steve’s eyes widen. “She didn’t tell me that.” Then he mutters to himself, “Why didn’t she tell me that?”

Tony hides a grin. "She's really good," Tony offers.

Actually, he really has no idea why he's continuing this. Maybe because of the obvious attraction (but who can blame him? Seriously, Steve Rogers makes nuns tingle with excitement), but maybe because of something else, something inside of Tony's gut that he doesn't want to examine.

"She really is - hey, is that a tattoo?" Steve asks. Tony looks down and realises his shirt buttons have opened to reveal the top of the tattoo collection he has circling the top of his chest, going over his shoulder and curling around his right arm.

Tony bites his bottom lip. "Yeah, one of many."

Steve stares a second too long at the revealed part of Tony's chest, where the top of the blue triangle (the one Tony has lovingly named the 'reactor') peeks out, and the spirals of the beginning of a word (a phrase, actually: 'earn both fear and respect', a motto that both Tiberius's and Tony's fathers had lived by).

Then Steve pulls his gaze away, and says, "Why do you cover them up?"

Because it's personal. Tony shrugs. "I don't think this crowd would appreciate them."

Steve snorts. "Yeah, I guess not. They're kind of uptight."

Tony lets out a sharp bark of laughter. "You could say that. Did you say that guy who wouldn't stop following-"

"The waiter with the clams!" Steve finishes, grinning. "With the moustache?"

Tony laughs. "That's the one!"

-

Bruce comes in ten minutes later, an expression on his face that's somewhere between unimpressed and bemused, just as they're laughing, leaning on each other in their hysterics, at the woman with the pink faux fur shoes.

-

Okay. Steve isn't sure how it happens, but he becomes friends with Tony Stark.

What the magazines don't tell you, what the interviews and songs and tv specials don't tell you, is that Tony is actually a nice guy.

He's not down-to-earth, obviously. He demands coffee at all hours and he has a small robot to do it (badly) for him. But he's more than parties and alcohol and that trademark
goatee-and-rumpled-hair look.

 

Steve sees all of Tony’s tattoos when he stops by one of Tony’s photo shoots, where Tony is shirtless , hands in his pockets and his head tilted down so he can look up with those big eyes of his.

 

There’s that blue triangle, dead in the centre. Lots of words: ‘earn both fear and respect' and lyrics that Steve recognises from Extremis’ albums and twisting shapes, like schematics, doodled all across his chest.

Steve...Steve needs to stop overthinking this.

-

Steve calls Sharon up a few days after Bruce’s party. She answers with a yawn. "What?"

"Why didn't you tell me that you were working on Tony Stark's new album?" He hisses in indignation.

He can almost hear her frown. "I did! I was telling you about it when Bruce called, remember?"

"Oh." He twists his lips, the fight gone out of him. "My bad."

"Yeah," she says, in that tone she borrows from Peggy sometimes, when she is sort of annoyed but not enough to actually get mad. "Anyway, why do you care all of a sudden?"

He stays silent, his cheeks reddening.

"Oh my gosh!" She exclaims as she cottons on. "You totally have a crush on him, don't you?"

"No!"

She cackles. "Oh, dear Steve. I should've seen that coming - you always have liked a bad boy."

"I'm hanging up now." He promises.

"No, wait, I was only teasing!" She protests, a giggle still in her voice. "Come on, you know you want me to tell you all about it."

He sighs, and leans back against his kitchen counter. "Yeah, you're right. Go on, then."

"Steve, it's going to be a hit. Seriously, the stuff coming out of his mouth is crazy. It's like, Metallica meets Adele meets Led Zeppelin." She pauses. "But in a good way."

-
On Monday, Tony walks into SHIELD HQ  with shades and a Black Sabbath t-shirt, trying to project as much of a 'Fuck You' attitude as possible. The receptionist directs him to the meeting room, with a snarky comment about him being ten minutes late
(seriously, fuck you).

He opens the door, and frowns at the view. He had been expecting just Maria and Coulson, maybe Fury if he's really screwed up. But none of them are here.

Instead, there's five people, all singers from SHIELD from very different genres.

Natasha Romonov, fixing him with a sceptical eyebrow. Clint Barton, whose sneaker-clad feet are propped up on the table. Thor Odinson, who Tony remembers from when rock music was fun (or at least, fun for him), who looks slightly uncomfortable. (To be fair, Thor looks uncomfortable in most situations that would class under 'mundane' rather than 'rock opera show'.) Bruce Banner, also looking uncomfortable, in a quieter way.

And Steve. Tony goes to sit next to him (it's one of the only - okay, of the seven - free chairs, shut up) and grins at him. "What's this about, then?"

Steve shrugs. Then he gets a glint in his eye, and he says, "Ask Clint for his theory."

Clint leans back in his chair. "I think Fury's gonna ask us to shoot a porno."

Natasha rolls her eyes. "Shut up, Clint."

"And hey, don't get me wrong, you're all very attractive, but I need to maintain my dignity." He continues, as if Natasha hadn't interrupted.

Bruce smirks. "Didn't you release a song called 'Smushy Pushy Love?"

Clint buries his head in his  hands dramatically. "Why won't anyone forget that? It was my debut EP, I was experimenting!" He moans.

The door opens, and Fury walks in, director of the entire company. He looks at them all with the same amount of annoyance, like they're inconveniencing him.

Tony thinks about Pepper's earlier words of wisdom: "Keep your mouth shut, no stupid-ass comments, or else I'll sew your goddamn mouth shut. Don't think I won't!"

He decides to keep quiet until spoken to.

"You are here because it's that time of year again," Fury introduces. "When America starts feeling sorry for the rest of the world. So SHIELD are organising a charity single - all proceeds to helping the world." He sounds like the idea disgusts him.

Coulson, who has appeared from nowhere, seriously, the guy is like a goddamn ninja, pipes up: "That means all proceeds. You'd be doing this out of the good of your own heart."

Fury's expression turns even darker at this idea. He says, "We have gathered you together because you are our most high-profile representation. And to clarify, high-profile does not mean well-liked." Fury looks pointedly at Tony, who scowls and sinks further into his chair. Steve opens his mouth, as if to defend Tony - which is really quite sweet when you think about it - but shuts it again as Fury turns his glower at him with full force.

"What song are we doing?" Bruce asks. "Sir." He adds, as a careful afterthought.

Fury looks pained. "We're leaving it all up to you. Pick a song to cover or whatever, I don't care, so long as I can sell it and it's done by the time that Rogers goes on tour."

Steve looks awkward at being singled out.

Tony gives him a side look. "You're going on tour?"

Steve smiles, and says, "National. One stop in each state, I think."

Tony raises his eyebrows. "Impressive."

Fury rolls his eyes. "Yes, well done, moving on. We're having a camera crew to make a little documentary, so try not to argue too much. Are we clear?"

They all nod with various sounds of affirmation.

-

Of course, it doesn't quite happen like that.

-

Within twenty minutes, Tony is in an argument with Clint about whether to use Ray Charles or Judas Priest. The camera crew look like all of their dreams have come true all at once.

Natasha and Bruce are in the corner, quietly discussing opera. Steve is looking a little bit scared by the whole ordeal.

Finally, Thor smacks his hands down on the table, making Tony and Clint fall into silence. "Enough!" He says sharply. "We must work together. Remember, this is to feed the poor, not our egos."

Tony sits back in his chair, and raises a sceptical eyebrow. "What do you suggest, then?"

Thor doesn't have an answer. But apparently, Natasha does. She stands up, and coolly says, "What if we just have some homework today?"

"Homework?" Clint looks at her with a clueless expression.

"We pick a partner," she continues. "Someone with completely different music taste."

Clint and Tony side-eye each other.

"And we exchange genres, and do some research into that genre. For example, I'll go with Steve, and I'll find my favourite, say, top ten country songs. And he would look into his favourite singer/songwriter songs."

"That is a good idea!" Thor approves loudly. "I shall pair with Bruce, for his type of music is slower than my usual preference."

"I guess I'm with you, then," Tony looks to Clint, his previous agitation disappearing much faster than he would have expected.

Clint grins. “You’re going to have a great time. Here, let me write down some electro-pop for you to listen to.”

-

Steve meets Natasha for a coffee the next day, before they go and start work on the charity single.

They discuss music, and then somehow they start talking about television shows, and then suddenly Steve finds himself snorting and laughing at Natasha Romanov's (the Natasha Romanov) impression of Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Steve grins. "You're not what I expected."

She smiles. All her movements and expressions are graceful, of course, but the stiffness with which all her public appearances have has gone. "I get that a lot. But I'm sure you're not the same person the public sees in interviews and on stage, yes?"

He nods. "Yeah."

A camera flash goes off, and his good mood sours. "Crap."

"The photographer?" She asks.

"Yeah." He's about to say something something else, but then his phone goes off, and it's Sam.

"Steve," he says urgently. "Are you on a date with Natasha Romanov?"

"What?" Steve looks around, half-expecting to see Sam lurking in the shadows with a pair of binoculars. "How - Anyway, no, I'm not."

"Well pretend you are," Sam says with the same intensity. "I'm getting emails left, right, and centre, and one from her publicist as well."

"What? Sam, I'm not-"

"Steve!" Sam says. "This would be the perfect way to end it with Sharon. Seriously, think about it."

Steve does - he could say Sharon and he split amicably a while ago. And if Natasha's publicist is okay with it... He sighs. "I'll call you back, Sam." He hangs up.

Natasha cocks her head. "What was that?"

He winces. "Uh. Apparently our publicists are setting us up."

Her expression clears, and then her eyebrows pull down in a resigned frown. "He did say something about a pretend relationship." She rubs her forehead. "I suppose there are
far worse people to do it with."

"Uh," Steve coughs. "I should probably tell you - I'm, uh-"

"Gay?" She supplies. He goes red; is he that obvious? She catches his expression, and smiles. "Me too. But hey, that's showbiz, right?"

"Right." He takes a sip of his coffee, and wonders whether this is all really worth it.

-

Tony sees the news about a week into making the charity single. So far, they've picked the songs to medley together, something to represent each of them, with a twist. They're all singing the opposite of their usual genre (with the obvious exception of
Bruce), which, thinking on it, is probably just a dorky in joke for the six of them to enjoy, but whatever. People are going to buy the single whatever they do, because it’s for charity and because it’s six of the the biggest names in music right now.

Anyway, he’s walking down a street, to SHIELD HQ. Walking because he’s a few minutes early and he doesn’t want to look eager, and also because he kind of needs all the exercise and fresh air.

He passes the street vendor with only a side glance - and then stops at one of the headlines on a gossip magazine. He peers at it over his shades, and frowns at it.

Natasha and Steve: the inside story of their romance!

He gulps, and looks at all the other gossip magazines: they each have a similar story. He picks one at random and pays for it with a thrusted note at the vendor (it’s a fifty, but he
doesn’t notice nor care).

He stuffs it inside his pocket, and walks to SHIELD HQ, choosing to ignore it for the time being. At least, that was the plan. All day, working with both Natasha and Steve (who don’t seem any closer, but Tony’s never been good at this), the magazine feels like it’s burning a hole to his skin.

-

When they all pack up at the end of the day, half of the demo vocals recorded, Steve nudges Tony with his elbow. “Hey. You okay?”

Tony’s hand flinches towards his trouser pockets, but then he stills, and flashes a grin at Steve. “Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Steve shrugs. “You seemed a bit bummed out.”

“Well, I’m fine.” Tony stuffs his hands in his trouser pockets.

“Okay,” Steve lets it go, even though he knows something isn’t right. But if that’s what Tony wants, that’s what Tony wants. “You want to come over to watch something on Netflix?”

“Shouldn’t you be doing that with Natasha?” Tony asks, a perfect poker face.

Steve frowns. “What-”

“I have to go,” Tony strides over to the door and lazily salutes Steve as he leaves. “Got a date with three hot models. You know how it is. Oh, wait, you don’t. Oops.”

It reminds Steve an awful lot of the first time they met, and he suddenly feels very confused.

-

Tony reads the article, and it basically says everything he expected. They met doing the new charity single, and immediately felt the attraction. An inside source says ‘they really hit it off’ and a close acquaintance of Steve’s says ‘I think he’s really falling for her’.

And so he decides to be a good friend, if that’s all he’s allowed to be. The next day, he says to Natasha that he’s happy for her.

She gives him an odd look and says, “For what?”

-

The charity single is coming along nicely. And, according to Sharon, so is Tony’s album.

“It’s really coming together,” she gushes. Bucky, Sharon, and Steve are all having a coffee in Bucky’s apartment. “It’s definitely his best work. Ever.”

Steve raises his eyebrows. “Better than the Gold album?”

The infamous Gold album was Tony’s second record, the one that propelled his band, Extremis, to success. It was also the album that enabled Tony’s alcoholism (from what little Tony tells Steve about his issues).

“Easily better than the Gold album,” she assures him. She leans in close, bending over her mocha. “I’d be betting on him for the Grammy’s.”

“Wow.” Steve says.

“Yeah-huh. Some of the lyrics - all his own, by the way - are crazy good. Like, there’s this one song, I think they’re gonna release it as a single, and I swear when he was recording the vocals, I was tearing up.”

“He wrote the entire record?” Now, Bucky finally looks impressed - as Steve’s best friend and co-songwriter, he can appreciate someone who writes their own work.

“Some of it’s really heavy,” Sharon confides. “Like, talking about his alcoholism and daddy issues and Tiberius’ death.”

“Wow,” Steve says again.

Then, like cosmic timing, Sharon says, "Hey, I think his first live interview is today." She picks up the remote and aims it at the small television Bucky keeps in the kitchen for when he's cooking.

"First live interview?" Bucky looks sceptical.

"Since rehab, duh," Sharon rolls her eyes. The commercial for a clothes detergent ends, and the title credits rolls for Maya Hansen's chat show, crowned as the next Oprah.

"Joining me today is a very  special guest,"  Maya says to the camera. "May I introduce, Mister Tony Stark!"

The camera cuts to Tony - his hair is styled, not the tousled mess Steve is used to, and he’s wearing a button-up shirt, instead of the rock t-shirts that Steve knows he collects. He smiles. “Hey, Maya. Long time no see?”

“That’s right!” She grins. “Last time we talked was...probably a year ago, now I think about it.”

His smile turns stiff. Everyone can tell where this is heading. But of course, it’s Tony fucking Stark, so he takes control by saying, “Before my meltdown.” He grins, like it’s all one big joke.

“Yes,” she nods empathically. “Before the tragedy of Tiberius’ death.”

-

Tony’s grip tightens on the arm rests. “Yes,” he says, not quite expecting that to hurt as much as it did. “Before that.”

“I’m sorry to ask, Tony.” She actually probably is - Tony knew Maya from way back when they were both trying to make it. “But can you talk about that time? About when you found out?”

It’s too personal to talk about that time as a generalisation, so Tony tries to look at it factually. “I, uh, was at a party when Pepper, my manager, she’s the only one who keeps my head on straight, called me and told me. At that point, he wasn’t actually dead, he’ uh, was at the hospital. I-” He coughs, trying to hide the emotion. At Maya’s expression, it doesn’t look like he succeeded. “I was drunk. Not high, I swear I don’t do drugs, but too drunk to think clearly. I...I didn’t go to the hospital. He died
when I was passed out in the street.”

Maya reaches out and he fights not to flinch away. “Oh, Tony. No one blames you, you know. Tiberius had a history-”

“Of marijuana, yeah.” Tony finishes. “And coke, and alcohol. All the pshyoanalysts told us that it was only a matter of time before he tried heroin. But-” He falters, but then continues. “But me and Ti, we grew up in similar households. It’s what drew us together. I knew what gin tasted like when I was seven years old and my dad forced a glass on me.”

Maya doesn’t say anything, and Tony’s already said too much - said something live, on national television, that he wouldn’t have even told his therapist. He hopes SHIELD are happy.

He clears his throat. “But I’m moving on, as Ti would’ve wanted me to. It could’ve easily been me in that situation, but it wasn’t, and I’m going to take that chance.”

“That’s right,” Maya’s producer doesn’t look happy at the conversation moving on, but Maya’s a good person, she really is, and she can see that a line has been crossed. “Your new album. How’s that coming along?”

“It’s going really well,” he says, the smile back. “I’ve been working really hard, and I have a wonderful producer, Sharon Carter, who’s really making this record the best it could be.”

“Don’t artists usually use a range of producers?” Maya asks.

He nods. “Yeah, usually. But they brought in Sharon to work on my demos, and I just had to keep her on - she really understands what I’m going for, and with her help, I think this record is easily going to be my best one.”.

-

Sharon’s mouth falls open. “Oh my god, he’s saying that about me!”

Steve and Bucky shush her.

-

“And your new album isn’t the only thing you’re working on, is it?” Maya asks. “The charity single - how’s that coming along?”

“It’s going really well,” Tony says. “I’m working with some awesome people, who bring a lot of talent to the table. It’s great, merging all of our genres together.”

Huh - that’s weird. He’s complimenting other people, in an interview that’s supposed to be all about him. And he’s not even doing it deliberately. Pepper’s going to have a heart
attack.

He’s so busy thinking about Pepper’s reaction that he misses Maya’s next question. He blinks, and internally curses. Fuck. He smiles apologetically. “Sorry, what? I phased out, I’m so sorry.”

She laughs. “Glad to see your attention span hasn’t changed. I asked, how do you feel working with both Natasha Romonov and Steve Rogers, now that they’re dating. Is it weird? Are they professional about it?”

He can feel his smile freeze, and everyone can probably tell, but if he lets it go, his face will tell them all what he really thinks about that relationship. “Very professional,” he says. “I didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out to me!” Maya laughs with him, and he’s very, very lucky to have gotten away with it.

-

It’s the final day of working on the charity single. Steve leaves for the tour in a week. And Tony is in a foul mood.

Pepper had texted Steve a warning that morning, quite literally: beware - it’s a year today, tony is out for blood.

It took Steve a second to get the meaning: it’s the anniversary of Tiberius’ death, and Tony’s subsequent meltdown.

Steve tries to be understanding, he really does. When Tony arrives, grey bags under his eyes, hidden partly by his large sunglasses, Steve sends a sympathetic look. But within a few minutes, Tony is telling everybody that the whole song is awful, and there’s no point in it anyway because people don’t deserve the charity.

A few minutes after that, Tony is in a blazing argument with Steve. Steve’s not really sure how it happened. All he knows is that he’s standing up, as is Tony, and he’s shouting about something that isn’t really worth it.

“Oh, for god’s sake - get off your high horse, Steve!” Tony snaps. His eyes are blazing. “Everyone’s sick of your damn routine!”

“What routine?” Steve retorts hotly. The camera crew look to be wetting themselves.

“The ‘oh, look at me, I’m just an innocent cattle farmer, I just want to live my dream’ one!” Tony adopts a mocking voice.

“I’m from Brooklyn!” Steve snaps.

“Then why  the fuck do you sing country music?”

Steve lets out a loud, exhausted sigh. “God, Tony, I get that this is a difficult day-”

“Fuck off,” Tony cuts over him savagely.

“Tony, I’m your friend,” Steve implores, trying to change tactics and calm himself.

Tony laughs meanly. “Oh, Steve, that’s cute. But believe me, we are not friends.”

Steve doesn’t have anything to say to that, and he watches, dumbfounded, as Tony shoots them all one last glare and storms out.

There’s silence in the room, and then Bruce says, “Maybe you should go after him.”

Steve shakes his head, and sits back down in his chair. “No - no, it’s fine. Let him get it out of his system.”

-

Tony sulks for about two weeks.

The charity single is finished without him.

Steve leaves to go on tour.

-

Tony storms into Pepper’s home about two and a half weeks after the charity single argument.

“Pepper!” He calls into the room. “Pepper, I-”

Then he frowns as he hears Pepper’s voice hissing from the bedroom. “Shit! Hide!”

“I’m not hiding, it’s not my fault he wasn’t taught about privacy!”

Tony’s eyes crease in a frown.

Pepper walks out of her bedroom in a dressing gown, as casually as one can with hickeys and messed up hair and flushed cheeks.

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Hey, Pepper. Having a shower?”

“I was about to, yes,” Pepper lies efficiently.

“Well, I’m very sorry to interrupt.” He can’t stop the shit-eating grin that’s erupting on his face.

Pepper sighs in defeat. “Oh, fuck off, Tony, how many times have I walked in on you getting your dick sucked?”

“Three times,” he holds out his fingers to show it. “And I’m not ashamed. I even introduced you to two of them. So come on, tell me, who is your hanky panky partner?”

“You’re a child.”

“Pepper, I’ll go in there and drag out the poor man you have hiding under your bed, don’t make me.”

“Hey, Stark.”

He turns around, and his eyebrows raise as Natasha Romonov walks out of the bedroom, a bed sheet wrapped around her for modesty.

“Oh. My. God.” Tony’s mouth falls open. Then he says, in outrage, “You’re cheating on Steve!”

The more selfish part of him sees this as a very good thing – maybe he can be there to comfort Steve’s broken heart with a blow job or two – but the good, moral part of him is betrayed on Steve’s behalf.

Natasha stares at him. “Stark. You’re kidding, right?” She turns to Pepper. “I thought you told him.”

Pepper looks apologetic. “I assumed he knew. I mean, I thought he’d been banging Steve since Bruce’s party.”

“Hey!” Tony says indignantly. “What am I missing here?”

Pepper sighs. “Tony, Natasha and Steve aren’t actually dating. It’s a cover up, to hide their actual sexuality.”

“Oh.” Tony blinks. “Oh.”

“Yep.”

“I need to talk to Steve,” Tony says, slightly dazed. “I think I’ve fucked up.” He picks up his keys again. Then his brain catches up, and he whirls around again.  “Hey, and when did you two start hooking up?”

“Well while you were having a temper tantrum over Steve’s dick, I had to do damage control!” Pepper defends. “That meant making sure everyone involved wouldn’t talk to the press.”

“And you seduced her to stop her talking?” Tony adopts an impressed expression. “Wow, Pep, I didn’t know you were capable - Okay I’m leaving!”

The pillow that Natasha brought with her narrowly missed Tony’s head as he pretty much runs out of the door.

-

Steve sighs, running his hand through his sweaty hair as he takes a swig from the water bottle from of the stage crew had chucked at him. He tugs his sticky t-shirt away from his chest, and heads for his room backstage to get changed. Behind him, the crowd still cheer his name, but he’s already been out for an encore. He’s halfway through the tour, but he’s already getting tired.

He opens his changing room door, and freezes at the sight.

It’s Tony.

He‘s leaning against the dressing table, look off to the side, but as soon as he realises Steve is there, he straightens. His previously crossed arms fall to his side and he looks awkward.

“Uh,” he leads with. He scratches the back of his neck. “I, I was going to watch your show but I didn’t have a ticket.”

 

“...Okay,” Steve says in a confused tone.

 

“And I tried to get to the Minnesota one yesterday but the security guard didn’t recognise me and Pepper wouldn’t help me get in, something about making it up to you by myself, whatever that means.”

 

Steve nods slowly. “Right. Um, why-”

 

Tony starts babbling over Steve. “Look, I was a dick. And I probably should’ve apologised earlier, but I was being a dick. As I just said. A jealous dick. Which, uh, isn’t an excuse, but...” he trails off, and looks helplessly at Steve.

“Jealous?” Steve frowns. “Of what?”

Tony huffs, and looks down at his feet. Then he inhales, and in one big big breath, says, “I maybe thought you and Natasha were actually dating and I didn’t want you to be.”

"You didn't want us to be dating?" Steve asks, as his stomach begins to tighten in a fluttery way. "Why not?"

Tony groans, and runs a hand through his already messed-up hair. "Geez, Steve, you're really gonna make me say it?"

Steve grins. "Yep." He takes a step closer and closes the door behind him. "I am."

Tony lets out a long huff - he's still looking at the ground which means he doesn't see Steve's smile.

"I didn't want you to be dating her - or anyone - because I wanted to be dating you. God knows why!" Tony throws up his hands and paces angrily, still avoiding eye contact. "I mean, I know that you could do better, but I want to be your friend and I want to fuck you and I want to see you every minute I can. And apparently, dating is the official way to do this, so God help us all."

He sighs, and finally looks up, eyes vulnerable and big.

Steve's grin widens. "I want to date you too."

"Yeah?" Tony says, a smile breaking out on his face.

"Yeah."

He has barely a second before Tony launches himself at Steve, pulling him down into a searing kiss. He laughs into Tony's lips, and pulls him closer.



Epilogue

Pepper adjusts Steve's tie for the millionth time. "Honestly," she grumbles. "Just because you're wearing a tie, it doesn't give Tony an excuse to try and undress you."

Steve shrugs, biting back a smile. "He says he likes the rumpled look on me."

 

She makes a displeased noise. "I'll see how much he likes it when I superglue his fidgety hands together."

"I would pay to see that," Natasha interjects from where she's sat on the hotel room bed, texting away (probably tweeting - Clint taught her how and now she's addicted).

"I'm sure you would – oh, for the love of god, stop twittering!" Pepper exclaims in frustration.

"I just hit three million followers," Natasha sticks her tongue out at her.

Pepper huffs, but they all see the endearing smile playing at her lips.

-

Tony grimaces at his reflection in the limo window. He shouldn't have agreed to meet Steve there - a quick hand job would really (probably) calm his nerves.

He still can't believe they actually invited him back to the Grammy's.

-

They get here and the cameras flash and they ask them questions they don’t know how to answer and they finally get inside and  Steve wants this to go well so badly. He wants Tony to finally win.

But Tony doesn't win the Best Rock Single award. It goes to someone else, Steve doesn't even recognise the name.


"Oh, come on!" He exclaims, before realising that there are live cameras watching his every mood. His cheeks go furiously red, and he steadfastly ignores Tony's smug grin next to him. Tony grips onto his hand, and whispers a filthy way of saying thank you into his ear.

Then it's Natasha presenting the award for Best Rock Album - the one Tony wants, the one he wants with every bone in his body, the one he knows he deserves.

She smiles, and says something about rock being the background for all major movements, blah blah blah. He'll watch a recording later.

She opens the envelope and Tony honestly thinks he can feel his heart slow down. She smiles.  "And the winner for Best Rock Album is - and I cannot tell you how much he deserves this - Tony Stark!"

Tony wobbles his way to the stage - somehow, he’s not really sure how he does it. He takes the award from Natasha, and then stands in front of the podium, facing the audience, facing the camera, facing everyone.

“I, uh, I know everyone usually thanks people in these speeches,” he says. “But, I have a lot of apologies to make, and this seems the best place to make them.”

The room has gone silent.

“Firstly, I want to say sorry to Ti. I should have done something earlier, we all should have, and I hope you’re finally happy.”

 

A spatter of applause follows.

 

 “Secondly, I want to say sorry to Pepper. I’m sorry for telling your father that you were pregnant when you were just joking. I’m sorry for dropping the f-bomb at your engagement party. I’m sorry for not letting go of you so you could go to someone who deserves you.

“I’m sorry to Rhodey for basically being a dick ninety per cent of the time. I’m sorry to my friends, I don’t know why you put up with me.”

“And finally, I want to say sorry to the person who means the world to me.”

 

 He finds Steve in the crowd and locks eyes with him.

 

“I’m really sorry, because, baby, I honestly hope you’re going to be stuck with me for a very long time.” He raises the award high in the air to applause and cheers and lights flashing and, most of all, to Steve’s proud grin. “Thank you very much!”

-