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“This is a stupid bet,” Steve grumbles.

“Only because you’ll lose.” Bucky clambers up from beneath the table and sets a fresh stack of trial study application forms on top, brushing off his pants.

Steve smiles at a man as he passes the booth and picks up one of their leaflets. It’s the third and last day of the fair, and they’ve already had to order two extra boxes of brochures, applications, and another set of Sam’s business cards. It’s doubly fantastic, to be getting so much interest from the veterans in their area, and to be promoting Sam Wilson’s counseling services. Steve knows he and Bucky can both get behind that; they’ve benefited personally from Sam’s support.

Once the man is gone again, Steve glowers at Bucky. “I am fully capable of getting a date without your help.”

“What?” Bucky screws a finger into his ear, then waves to a passing group of boys with his newfangled prosthetic. Steve hears an energetic chorus of ‘cool!’ “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over all the not getting laid you’re doing.”

Steve rolls his eyes, hands another flyer out, and chucks the crumpled napkin from his last hamburger at Bucky’s head. It’s his second today; so sue him, he’s hungry. Down the way, a Zydeco band has started playing, lifting the energy exponentially. They buckle down for a while, explaining the trial study—high tech prostheses like Bucky’s being refined for everyday use for returning amputees—and generally gathering more interest from the crowd.

“What we really need to do is find you a prostitute.”

“Buck,” Steve hisses, scandalized.

Bucky smiles winningly at the woman in front of their booth, who has severe scarring on her face and throat, and has just burst into snorting laughter. “High end, Steve, don’t worry. Flyer?”

Luckily Steve has an easy out. “I can’t afford a prostitute, high end or otherwise,” he says sourly once the woman leaves.

“Oh, I think we could pull something together. I made thirty bucks walking dogs on Wednesday.”

“Bucky, shut up,” Steve moans, rubbing his face.

“Okay, not a prostitute,” Bucky says, unperturbed. He loudly calls a few more people over and distributes flyers. “But you are asking someone out. You seriously need to get some.”

“I’ll ‘get some’ when I damn well want some,” he growls and, true to form, Bucky senses when he’s pushing too far and comes in from another angle.

“I just want you to have fun. You’re too serious these days. You’re always at work, you barely even look at your art books anymore. I think it’d do you some good, getting out for a night. Or getting in,” he snickers, because he’s still Bucky.

Steve rolls his eyes, and for the next few minutes, they’re busy shepherding a group of older vets through the sign-up process. He wonders what his chances are of Bucky forgetting this subject within the next five minutes, and decides they’re slim to none.

He could always go get another burger.

When the rush clears, Bucky takes a break, stepping back and slugging deeply from his beat up water bottle. His labs have been a little funky of late and he’s been told to stay hydrated. “You know what? I’m going to pick someone out for you.”

“No.” Steve grits his teeth, mid-smile. “You are not.”

“You don’t have to marry the guy. Just take him out for the evening! And then bring him back to the hovel. For coffee, possibly sex.”

“Possibly not.”

“Possibly not sex. But definitely coffee. We just cleaned the joint, remember? It’s fit for public consumption.”

“Buck, we live in Crown Heights,” he says, letting his accent through. “Nobody’s comin’ home with me.”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with Crown Heights,” Bucky retorts, following Steve’s lead.

“I know that, and you know that,” Steve says, lapsing fully into awky vowels and unfinished consonants. “But the average Islander, he don’t know that.”

“And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with you,” Bucky goes on. “They should be so lucky, takin’ a guy like you home.”

Steve smiles at his friend. But he can see he’s not going to win this. Maybe he can mitigate it a little. “And what if he slugs me and steals our Playstation?” he says, dropping the accent.

Bucky claps him on the shoulder. “That’s where I come in.”

Steve slaps his hand away. “Oh, no, you are leaving for the evening, Barnes.”

“So there will be something to watch?”

“Not for you,” Steve shoots back.

“As long as you can see it, I’m good with that.” Bucky drains his bottle and grabs Steve’s, then pauses. “Ah.”

Oh, God, what now?

“There he is, folks.” Bucky points with the stopper of the bottle. “That, my friend, is your man of the hour.”

Steve snatches his water bottle from Bucky and takes a swig, ready to fend off the joke at someone else’s expense. And chokes on his water.

Because not only has Bucky picked the handsomest, most well-dressed man Steve has seen in years. He’s picked out the guy Steve’s been secretly ogling for the past two days.

**
**
**

“This is a stupid bet,” Rhodey says out of the side of his mouth. Behind him Tony scoffs.

“You don’t think I can do it. How can you not think I can do this?”

“I’m telling you, it’s not going to work.” Rhodey flips a page in his tabloid. “Ooh. Giant squid attacks seaside town, look.” He waves the picture over his shoulder. Tony lowers his glasses to view the photoshop travesty.

“I bet it was Malibu.”

“You bettin’ again?”

Tony spins around on his Converse, spreading his arms like he’s the second coming just so he can hear Rhodey snort. “And why won’t it work? I could pass.”

“Uh, for one, because everyone already knows who you are.” Rhodey flips a page, then pops it with his fingers and waves the picture over his shoulder again. It’s Tony, apparently the sperm donor to a set of spider monkey triplets. “Problem with being a celebrity billionaire. They’ll take one look at you and know you’re not a high class hooker.”

“The high class hooker. I’m the best dressed person here.”

“See, that’s another reason you won’t pick anyone up. Even if they are thinking along those lines, they know they’d never be able to afford you.”

“I could offer a discount.” Tony tips his head back, enjoying the sunlight on his face. He’s been in the workshop too long. It’s a beautiful spring day, not too hot, not too hipster. “First five comers, half off.”

“Cute.” Rhodey shakes his head, mutters, “More like all off.”

“Only if they’re lucky. I’m telling you, it’s in the bag.”

“Tony,” Rhodey says on a sigh. At least he’s staying away, even if he isn’t exactly hiding the fact that he knows Tony. With his dress blues, he’d give the game away so fast Tony would need to dance the Samba naked in the street for anyone to give him a second look.

Well. Dance naked again, anyway. “Yes, hot cross?”

“Would you stop naming me after baked goods?” Rhodey glowers at his objectionable newspaper. “Making me hungry. It’s been three days of you strutting around out here like you’re god’s gift to America’s finest, and you haven’t even had a nibble. What on earth makes you think you have this nailed? Don’t,” he says immediately, holding up a finger over his shoulder. “Poor choice of words, do not say it.”

“You wound me, Rhodes. I will hit that like a hammer.”

“And there you go, saying it.”

“I will screw that driver right in.”

“Stop.”

“Peg A into Hole B.”

“You are fired, Tony.”

Tony takes off his glasses. “You can’t fire me from my own company.”

“Tell me, how much energy have you spent pushing this trial study and how much pushing your new vocation?”

“Locked in three separate sponsors this morning, ninety thou each.”

“And you didn’t even have to sleep with them.” Rhodey puts away the magazine and selects another one. “Okay. Fine. I see that you are in fact pulling your weight here.”

“Child’s play. Hence, the side project.”

“I just don’t see why you have to trawl here.”

“Because confidence?” Tony gestures in a circle, winking at one particularly arresting sergeant as he passes with an elderly woman who is obviously his mother. “Poise? Self discipline? Muscles up to here? Rhodey. Have you even looked at these people?”

“Yes. I see a whole lot of survivors who deserve to be proud of the sacrifices they’ve made for our freedom, and don’t deserve to be propositioned by bored Howard Hughes.”

“Aw, honey bunches.” Tony surveys the field again. “Joke’s on you. Those in my line of work don’t do the propositioning.”

Rhodey throws up his hands. “You are not a high class hooker, Tony.”

“Wanna bet?”

“I said no.”

“Because you’d lose.”

“Because I’d feel cheap.”

“I’d take you to dinner.”

“You always take me to dinner.”

“Tomorrow night.”

“Doing that anyway.”

“At Kitcho.”

Rhodey pauses. “That’s in Kyoto.”

“We’ll get puffer fish.”

“I—” He blinks and points at Tony’s head. “No. No, you are not bribing me into this.”

“Not a bribe.”

“It is totally a bribe.”

“You’re scared.”

“I’m not scared.”

“Scared to bet against me.”

“I am not scared to bet against you.”

“General Snyder deserves to know about all this fear.”

“Tony, there is no fear.”

“Fear that I’ll win.”

“No, you won’t.”

“I will.”

“Won’t.”

“Will.”

“Fine!” Rhodey slaps the paper down on the stand, startling the vendor. “Fine, I bet you that you can’t pick up a john at this veterans’ street fair while pretending to be world’s most expensive male escort. Because you can’t.”

“Good.” Tony claps his hands. “I know just the guy to go for.”

“Oh my god,” Rhodey says, rubbing his face with both hands.

“What? Piece of cake.”

“How so?” Muffled.

Tony smirks his most syrupy smirk. “He’s only been watching me since yesterday.”

~tbc~

Chapter Text

The trick is not to think too much. Steve attempts to move with purpose, mad at himself for not taking his hands out of his pockets. He can’t. He’s trying, damn it. It’s like they’re stuck there.

The guy is—Well, it’s more the overall effect. Steve doesn’t even know where to start with all the individual things. Guy’s beard is meticulously shaven into a design that should be reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash. But not on him. He’s dressed in this blue-gray-white striped suit that is so inappropriate for a summer street fair and brings to mind a circus ringmaster. But not on him. His hair is a flyaway mess that should look like he’s trying way too hard. But it doesn’t. He’s got a sharp jaw and blunt hands and slender fingers and nice thigh muscles and sunglasses that must cost five hundred bucks, except he’s wearing a battered pair of thin-soled tennis shoes of all things, and he’s so hot Steve blushes on principle.

This guy’ll never go out with him. He could probably pay Steve’s bike loan off with the money he earns from raising an eyebrow.

But. He is looking at Steve. Which means it’s too late to turn around, and Steve wasn’t planning to do that anyway because Bucky would give him all kinds of shit. Steve rolls his shoulders back and lifts his chin. He’s tall, and he knows what he looks like, even if he doesn’t cultivate the attention it gets him. The hardcore exercise started out as a way to stay alive in the field, but he likes how he feels when he’s in good shape, and he does draw eyes.

Maybe he can draw these eyes.

Except, “Hello, soldier,” the guy says when Steve is fifteen feet away, and that’s that: he’s blushing again.

“Hi.” Steve stops. They’re right in the middle of the road. Of course there are no cars, what with the streets blocked off, but there are plenty of people flowing around them. “So, do you, uh—How’s your visit to the fair going?”

Great. Real smooth. The man smirks. It’s slow, shiver-inducing.

“Getting better every minute.” He actually says that. Like he’s been waiting for Steve to walk over and hit on him. “How about you, All American? Looking to make your visit to the fair better?”

“I.” Well, faint heart never one fair... millionaire. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.” Bucky would seriously be so proud.

The guy nods like it’s just what he wants to hear. “So, when do you get off, soldier?”

And that’s, yes, that was an innuendo. Guy’s not even trying to hide it. Sister Mary Frances, what has Steve gotten himself into?

Apparently, something he really wants to be into. “Six. When the fair shuts down.”

“What a coincidence, me too.” The guy removes his sunglasses briefly, whipping out a pristine royal blue kerchief to clean the lenses. He’s got the deepest, prettiest brown eyes, framed by some thick eyelashes, and every way he stares at Steve is intense, like Steve’s all he wants to be looking at.

Ah, hell.

“You want to make a night of it?” Steve tries, because he’s been all out of good, effective lines since he was sixteen. The guy laughs, a spurt of amusement that heats Steve’s ears like the Sahara. But he looks Steve up and down with a considering slide.

“Depends,” he says. “What are you offering?”

Uh, dinner? Steve could pay for dinner. Probably not a trip to Coney Island, but maybe a museum? If they go to the MOMA, he can get them in for free. He could spring for ice cream, too, or street waffles. Anything to walk them around until Steve can get up the gumption to bring this guy back to... uh... Okay, he’s not going to think about that right this second.

Organically. That’s his comfort zone and that’s how he’s going to let this one play out, no matter what Bucky Barnes wants. “What are you in the mood for?”

The guy smirks again. It really is an attractive look on him. “Earning my keep.”

What does that have to do with... Wait. What?

What?

Oh, god. He almost says it out loud. But Sarah Rogers didn’t raise her son to be an asshole and Steve’s not about to start now. “Uh.” He finds the words carefully, looks them over once, and deems them alright. “So you’re actually a... working man?” A prostitute? A callbo—man, or escort or, or gigolo? Oh, hell. He gestures to the guy, not sure what he means to indicate. Perhaps all of him.

“He shoots, he scores.” The guy beams like Steve’s just paid him the highest compliment. He extends a hand. “Name’s Tony.”

So... he’s proud of what he does. That’s admirable, especially for that line of work. Steve’s first impulse was to feel sorry for him, but clearly this man needs no one’s sympathy. Steve can get behind that. He’s had too many people’s sympathy for way too long. He clasps Tony’s hand and gives it a firm shake.

But then he’s stymied, because he can’t just run back to Bucky with his tail between his legs, and he really, truly can’t afford any kind of hooker. “How much?”

The man gives him another onceover, mouth still quirked. He waves a hand at himself, at his suit. “If you have to ask…”

Steve blinks. Blinks again, and has an irritating thought. He sucks a slow breath in through his nose. “Did my buddy put you up to this?”

He gestures behind him in a way that Bucky won’t see, and this Tony leans sideways, lowering his shades a little to peer down the aisle of booths.

“I can safely say I don’t know your buddy,” he says after a moment. A faint pinch appears between his brows. “Though he is wearing one of m—” A glance at Steve. “The nifty new prostheses everyone’s been talking about.” He settles his sunglasses in place again.

God, this guy is good looking. Not to mention suave, and so comfortable in his skin that Steve wants to step into that skin, just for a second. Not the whole call-boy gig or anything but...

Sometimes Steve just wishes he’d been born into another body. This one’s great and all, and it’s served him well, particularly overseas. But it wasn’t always so faithful, and when it reached its full potential, it did it in a big gangly hurry, and he still forgets sometimes and breaks glasses by squeezing them too hard or wrenches doorknobs loose from their moorings. Poorly built doorknobs, of course.

And he’s losing the thread. “People are talking about the study?”

“You’re very popular. I can see why.” The way he says it is so nonchalant! Steve could never flirt with someone so blatantly. As evidenced by this very conversation. Then again, Tony probably doesn’t mean it. After all, he’s trying to score a fare. Oh god, Steve is his fare. Steve’s propositioning a prostitute. “So that’s Sergeant James Barnes, huh?”

“What?” Steve cranes around and Bucky gives him a lewd eyebrow wiggle and a chipper wave with his mechanical hand, in that order. “How do you know that?”

“Pamphlet,” Tony says, after a tiny pause.

“That’s not in the pamphlet.” Steve’s pretty sure that isn’t in the pamphlet. He’s the one who cobbled the pamphlets together after all, on his older-than-dirt laptop using Sam’s stash of support group photos for some color.

But Tony just shrugs. “It must be in a pamphlet. How else would I know?” He clears his throat and looks around the fair, thumbs in his pockets. The fingers of one hand tick repeatedly against his thigh.

Steve considers. They aren’t the only people promoting the study today. Maybe someone else is doing pamphlets? Tony must actually hang out here if he’s collecting leaflets. But Steve has no way to pay for this—shit, pay for this? He’s still trying to pay for this. “I’m sorry, I think I made a mistake. I really... can’t, uh, pay for this.”

Sex, Steve. His mind-voice sounds a lot like his friend Natasha sometimes. You can’t afford to pay for sex with this obscenely sexy man. It’s embarrassing, but it has to be said. Steve waits uncomfortably, knowing that when he gets back to Bucky, he’ll be even more uncomfortable.

Tony’s scrutiny is calculating. Running numbers, no doubt, figuring out just how out of Steve’s league he is. The corner of his mouth twitches. “How about I give you one on the house? For services to our country.”

Steve knows his mouth drops open. He shuts it, and his heart gives a strange somersault against his ribs. “On the house? But...”

“My business,” Tony says. “My prerogative.”

And then he waits, looking like he just asked Steve which bus line goes to Rockefeller Center.

Steve moistens his lips and looks around. His hands sneak up to his hips and he drops them again. Tony’s eyebrows jump, just a little.

Jeez, he is getting prettier by the second. Steve has never felt so drawn to someone he doesn’t know. And it doesn’t feel right, paying for a date, even if he’s not actually paying. There’s no way any of it will be real.

But he cannot, cannot go back to Bucky Barnes and tell him he nearly picked up a hooker after all.

It’s just one night, Head Natasha reasons. Technically, you fulfill the terms of the bet. And it’s free.

Steve draws a deep breath and faces Tony straight on. “Alright,” he says, heart beating fast. “You got yourself a customer.”

“Awesomesauce,” Tony says, grinning full throttle and making Steve’s body hurt. Certain parts of it, anyway. Tony takes off his sunglasses completely, folds them up, and tucks them into his lapel pocket. “So, you got a name, or should I just call you Captain America?”

**

At six o’clock, the food trucks break out their evening wares, the stage over in the park erupts into jazz, and Bucky shoves Steve out from behind the booth with both arms.

“Go get some, tiger.”

Steve glowers. “That’s not how that saying goes.”

“It is tonight!” Bucky salutes him and starts packing up, and Steve stops and looks around.

Tony probably won’t even be there. Someone else, someone who can actually pay, will have snatched him up. Steve wouldn’t even blame him; it’s a job and you have to take the opportunities that present themselves, not throw away good hours on some broke ass army urchin—

“Son of a gun.” Tony’s there, under the string of lights by the fountain, tapping away one handed on an expensive-looking cell phone. His tie is hanging from his trouser pocket, jacket over one arm, and his shirt is open at the throat. His sleeves have been rolled up to bare lovely forearms: dark hair, lean wrists, visible tendons. In profile, his beard frames his jaw perfectly, and the lowering sunlight catches through the mussed strands of his hair. Obviously he’s grunged down now that his evening is spoken for, no longer worried about how he presents himself to the wealthier customers. He can’t have any idea that like this, with no suit jacket, no tie, no meticulous bedhead, he looks even more perfect, more worth the expense.

Steve is an alley punk. Steve used to get his ass kicked behind movie theaters. Steve has no business being with him.

Tony looks up before Steve can escape. “You made it.”

Steve half turns, glancing at the booth behind him. “I walked four yards.”

“Really? Feels like more.” Tony slips his hands into his pockets and saunters toward Steve. He belongs in GQ; seriously, all he’s missing is a psychotic photographer. “So what does Steve Rogers want to do with his evening? I know a hotel up the way, fifty-five floors, pretty view, Jacuzzi tub. Big bed. They keep a suite on hold for me.”

“Ah.” Mother of god.

Tony shrugs. “Or we could walk around a bit.”

“I could stretch my legs,” Steve says, jumping on it. Tony comes to a stop a few feet from him, smiling out of the early twilight. He looks like a normal guy. Okay, an absurdly rich normal guy who sells sex, but the point is, just a guy, meeting up with another guy for a fine evening out.

Steve feels underdressed.

“I’m new to this area,” Tony says, motioning them into step with a tilt of his head and falling into an easy stroll beside Steve. “Why don’t you show me around?”

So Steve does. It’s not Crown Heights, but it’s still Brooklyn. He’s been in this borough for ages, bouncing from neighborhood to neighborhood depending on his paycheck. The architecture’s pretty interesting, and there’s live music filtering out of most of the bars. He starts talking about the rebuilding they did after the Black Tom explosion, and before he knows it, they’re arguing over whether Lamb or Van Alen was the more impressive William.

“William’s way too common,” Tony says. “No way they make an impression without their buildings.”

“It’s just a first name,” Steve argues, hands spread. “Lots of people have common first names. Like Tony.”

“Or Steve.”

“My point is, the name doesn’t matter. They designed swell buildings, that’s why they’re remembered.”

“‘Swell buildings?’ Tallest buildings in the city at the time, and he calls them swell.”

“At least they have personality. Not like…” He gestures at the biggest, brightest building he can see, the polished space-agey blemish near Grand Central. “Like that one.”

Tony stops in his tracks and stares at him, head cocked back. If Steve didn’t know better, he’d call that look ‘affronted.’ “That one.”

“Yeah.” Steve looks around again, waves at it again. Waves to encompass the whole of the city. “Too, I don’t know, slippery looking.”

“Stark Tower is slippery looking.”

Steve sighs. Of course, that’s probably the direction most of Tony’s clientele usually come from. “It’s very sleek and all. Pretty in its own way. But I’m just saying, city’s old. It has a lot of years behind it. Some of its classiest dames are being outshone by these new upstarts.”

Tony’s eyebrows shoot up. “Dames?”

“You know. The buildings. They’re classy.” Steve shrugs. “Classy dames.”

Tony shakes his head, but he’s smiling. He meanders a little closer to Steve and they walk in silence for a bit. The sun dips over the city now, sparkling off the multitude of plate glass windows. Tony’s skin looks warm to the touch, his brown eyes soft.

Steve has to ask. “Do you actually enjoy, you know.” He rotates his hand in a little circle. “Ah, sleeping with men?”

Tony eyes him sidelong. “Why shouldn’t I?”

“No, I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong with it.” Hypocrisy has never been Steve’s friend. Never been anyone’s friend, in his opinion. “I just figured, if it’s your job...”

“Oh. Then maybe I don’t make the distinction?”

“Yeah, basically.”

Tony lets out another of those little bursts of amusement. It’s almost a snort. On him, it’s ridiculously attractive. Again. “Don’t worry, Spangles. I am absolutely on board with sleeping with men.”

Well. That’s... good, then. That’s, but wait, he’s still a hooker. So he likes to sleep with men. Doesn’t mean he’ll like to sleep with Steve. Although, if those looks aimed Steve’s way are anything to go by, Tony likes what he sees. Or maybe he’s just a good actor. You’d have to be, wouldn’t you? To go to bed with anyone who will pay? Except Tony doesn’t go to bed with anyone who will pay, he has a hotel suite on retainer, he probably picks and chooses the clients as he likes. Then again, Steve can’t pay at all, so why is Tony wasting his time on him? Does he give out freebies often? Maybe he has a thing for servicemen. How many soldiers does he take home? Can any of them afford his real rates?

“What are your real rates, anyway?” That one actually comes out, and Steve feels that familiar clench of ‘what did you just say to me, Steven Grant Rogers?’ But he really is curious. He has no idea what the going rate is for someone of Tony’s caliber.

“A thousand an hour.”

Holy shit. Holy shit. One of them makes it out of Steve’s mouth, too, and Tony bursts into cheerful laughter. He claps Steve’s arm, then rubs it. “Okay there, let’s take a breather. Head between your knees.”

Steve does indeed take a breather. But he doesn’t need to sit down, thank you. He stares at Tony, unable to turn away, and this time it’s not because of his looks. Tony’s smile slips a little.

“Freaked you out, didn’t I.” It’s not a question.

“No,” Steve says, a bit strangled. “Well, yes. But not because… Not because of…”

Your hookerness? Your nerve, to be able to ask for that amount? The fact that I’d actually fork it over if I could? It’s truly not because of any of that. He’s freaked out because he really never stood the slightest chance of dating this man on his own.

He wishes to God he had a million dollars.

Why does he always have to fall for the unavailable ones? First there was Peggy, who had goals that didn’t involve a husband. Then Sharon, who wasn’t looking for long-term. Then Sam, who wasn’t into guys, and was Steve’s therapist besides. Every freaking time.

“What’s going on in there?” Tony asks carefully. He looks more nervous than before, which is to say he looks nervous, because he didn’t before.

“I’m just,” Steve hastens to reassure him. “I just, I don’t. I can’t pay anything close to that.”

Immediately the smile returns. “Which is why you’re getting it for free.”

“And what does one get for free?” Steve asks, just as carefully.

“What does one get for paying?” Tony shoots back with a wink, and Steve’s stomach tumbles deliciously. “On the house, remember? The terms of service don’t change.”

“How about dinner?” He needs to build up to this. He needs to build up to building up to this.

“Dinner,” Tony chuckles under his breath, but still audibly. He flicks a thumb against Steve’s shoulder, a fond swipe that’s gone as soon as it arrives. “You’re a little old fashioned, aren’t you?”

Steve colors, but holds his ground. “That okay with you?”

Tony offers his arm.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

So far, they’ve walked around.

And they’ve gone to dinner. Steve said he’d treat, but Tony doesn’t think he makes all that much, and directed him to the best hot dog stand he knows.

What? He was really craving sauerkraut.

Steve is just beautiful. Tony really can’t get over how endearing he is, blushing like a fire-truck yet plunging right into the trenches anyway, and how that adorableness is translating into such an overwhelming turn on. Tony feels kind of dirty. He shouldn’t be hitting on adorable, how old is this kid anyway?

Old enough to go to war. By Tony’s rubric—and he knows certain politicians do not agree with him, but they also slap injunctions on poor girls trying to get healthcare for their newborns, so whatever—that makes him old enough to sleep with a prostitute if he wants to. Though, Tony thinks he’s getting the better end of the stick in this case because hot damn. This guy is so perfectly proportioned that Mother Nature must have gone out and punched all her other creations afterward, just on principle.

It’s what Tony would have done.

The ice cream, though. That was a good idea. That’s been the best idea all night as far as Tony’s concerned, because Tony’s sipping on a massive Tang-Creamsicle from the Big Gay Ice Cream truck, but Steve, Steve got a Salty Pimp. He licked that sucker unashamedly for seven whole minutes. Every time his tongue slid around that mound of ice cream, Tony’s blood pressure dropped a little low, if you catch his drift.

He finds reasons to bump up against Steve. Fire hydrants, other pedestrians, scaffolding. Even after a day in the heat, Steve smells amazing, like sunscreen, sandalwood, and summer.

“Been a while since I just walked.” Steve’s looking across the river. The skyscrapers there rise into the heavens, their signal lights winking on as the sun sinks below the horizon. “The city’s so radiant at night.”

Normal people do not use words like ‘radiant’ in conversation. Tony gives up on watching where he’s going and watches Steve instead. His throat is this imperfect curve that Tony could never map with any existing function but, god, he’d spend forever memorizing its arcs and planes. He nearly runs into a mailbox, but sidesteps it just in time to remain sophisticated. Still, Steve looks at him out of the corner of his eye.

Tony clears his throat. “I mostly get driven around.”

He means by Happy, his company driver, but Steve obviously takes it as one of the perks of his particular employment. How the guy can look simultaneously uneasy and curious as hell is something Tony’s still trying to work out. He looks across the river, following Steve’s gaze of a minute ago. “I forgot how bright everything is.”

“So.” Steve is very pointedly not looking at him. “You said you work for yourself?”

“No pimps to bother you,” Tony says with a tickly flutter of the euphoria he’s been riding all night.

“That’s not.” Steve’s shoulders hunch. “Not what I meant.”

Tony really can’t get enough of that blush. It’s getting harder to see as the night draws on, but he’s witnessed enough that he can imagine it climbing its way down under Steve’s collar where Tony can’t see, but god almighty, he can imagine that, too. He’s having a good old time imagining that. “Settle down, Rogers,” he says, keeping it light. “Not offended. I just run my own show.”

“That seems unusual,” Steve says, sounding tense. Tony peers at him again, and Steve’s brow knits right in front of him. It makes him look like a completely different person. Dissatisfied, like someone has let him down or done something frustrating and it hits Tony for the first time—

Okay, how did this not occur to him earlier? Tony’s heart rate picks up, speeding against his ribs. Gone is the newly delisted boy soldier, and in his place is someone who has seen and done too much to be blindsided by anything, let alone a forty-something multibillionaire pretending to be a streetwalker.

Fuck, Steve has to know who he is. Has to. Who in this city doesn’t? If Steve knows who he is, then he’s now in the perfect position to screw Tony over by calling him out in front of hundreds of people in the middle of Brooklyn. Being New Yorkers, none of them are looking at Tony just now, but if any kind of noise gets going, that’ll change right quick.

Steve’s got the kind of face that sells papers, especially when he’s telling the truth.

“Unusual how?” he demands, his nerves getting the better of him. Steve halts and looks at him, face screwed up like a little boy’s, and Tony can’t tell if that’s a mask or if the other one was, or if either of them are or if he just doesn’t know enough about Steve to make that kind of determination.

“What?”

“How is that unusual?” Tony waves a hand. “Running my own show.” He’s getting angry, he can’t help it. If it’s going to be said, Steve’s going be the one to say it. Not Tony. Tony knows too much about offering up incriminating information where he can be recorded.

Steve’s eyebrows shoot up, and that blush is back, even in the poor lighting. “I. Well, I don’t know, really. I’m not all that knowledgeable about...”

“About what?”

Steve’s shoulders jump and drop. He hangs his head for a moment. “Look, I just got back to the States. I mean, it’s been months, but half of that time, I was just trying to remember how to sleep on a real mattress and work out at the gym without breaking the equipment. I don’t know a darn thing about how prostitution works. Uh, these days.”

That’s… very distracting. “How it works? It’s pretty self-explanatory, don’t you think?”

“I just mean, you have your own driver. How many escorts have that?”

Tony looks right into Steve’s eyes, startled out of his frustration by a shy, astonishing possibility. “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”

He must sound as dazed as he feels, because Steve’s smile reappears, this bashful little thing that Tony could bask under for hours. He rubs the back of his head, honest to god oh-shucks of him. “No?”

Tony laughs. A real laugh, the most joy he’s felt in… ages.

The fear always lurks, even when he’s not consciously aware of it, even when he’s in total control. He hasn’t truly dropped his guard in years. The lapse tonight hit him hard. But Steve didn’t approach Tony to get at his name or his money. He’s not trying to ride Tony’s coattails into high society, or beg sponsorship for some charity, or steal his company secrets, or even score a one-off pressed naked against the wall-to-ceiling windows of the penthouse.

He just honestly thought Tony would be a good guy to spend his evening with.

Somewhere, Tony’s still disappointed in himself for wearing a mask for this man. But this time, the mask is actually his own face. His own name and his own attitude. He never gets to be himself, with someone who doesn’t have any expectations about what they’re going to get, or worse, what they’re entitled to get. And that’s so ironic because he’s playing a prostitute, but the knowledge is blown away by the fact that Steve Rogers is not the sort of man who would ever take advantage of him, even though he is a sex worker.

You! are! not! a! sex worker! Rhodey fumes from far away and about a zillion years ago, seriously, Tony can barely remember what he sounds like, but the point stands:

Steve has no idea who he is, and Steve doesn’t care. Steve treats him like a person, not a commodity.

Tony smiles stupidly. Steve smiles back.

Damn it, Tony deserves this. And Steve deserves everything. Tony was starting to think there were no good people left in this world, Pepper and Rhodey aside. His stomach begins to ache in a low, pleasing way that grows even brighter and warmer the longer they stand there grinning at each other.

“Just throwing this out there.” Tony takes a deep, cleansing breath through his nose. The air is doubly sweet tonight. “Still got plenty of time if you want to, you know. Check in.” It’s his company suite at the Palace, for potential business partners he needs to wine and dine, but it’s plush. Steve looks like he could use a little plush.

Steve swallows, Tony sees it. It’s fascinating. The blush deepens again, but it’s still only just at his throat. Again they walk, wandering aimlessly down the sidewalk with the night blooming around them. Tony has forgotten what time it is.

“Would you mind if… if we just.” Steve gestures. He does that a lot, from a little flip of his hand to a wide open sweep. He has gorgeous hands. Steve clears his throat. “I don’t know that I’m up for the hotel.”

If Steve saw the hotel, he’d be up for it. And then hopefully, he’d be up for it. But. “Hey, no sweat. You call the shots.”

“Do people usually not…?” Another gesture, but Tony gets it. It is shockingly easy to understand Steve.

“People do whatever they want to do,” Tony says, warming back into the role. For a grand an hour, surely he can determine his own schedule. “You want to splurge at the hotel? Gravy. You want to spend the night walking the Hudson? See the sights? Cool beans. I’m here. It’s your night. Use it as you like.”

Steve smiles at him then, this sweet, simple smile that Tony just wants to cup his fingers around and cradle. This kid. Not really a kid, though, is he? His eyes are so much older than he is. His sense of humor is easy, confident, but there’s a control behind it that one doesn’t get from just bouncing around a city.

Steve isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

Maybe he’s still recovering from deployment. Tony has heard about that: guys coming back a mess from what they saw over there, not willing or able to get intimate with anyone. Things not working so well when they do. Even Rhodey had confided a little ‘infirmity’ to Tony after he returned from his first tour.

Tony studies Steve’s profile. If the guy’s willing to pick up a prostitute, maybe he’s trying to ease into things again. And Tony may have a well-deserved reputation of late, but he’s happy to help in whatever form it takes, even if that form remains a pristine three feet apart at all times.

“I know a place where you can see an awful lot,” Steve says at last.

“Show me.”

**

“How’d your buddy lose his arm?”

They’re flat on their backs on the roof, the blanket Steve unearthed from the all-weather utility bench beneath them. It’s woolen and scratchy, and smells like grass. Steve doesn’t answer immediately, and Tony looks up at the multitude of stars, imagining how many there would be if he could just get up above the city lights somehow.

Eventually, he rolls his head to look at Steve instead. View’s breathtaking up here.

“Amputation.” Steve shifts and subsides, and Tony waits. “We hit a supply train in the mountains, dead of winter. Buck and I led the assault.”

“Buck?”

“Bucky, short for Buchanan. It’s his middle name.” Steve draws an audible breath. “It was storming. Ice and sleet just lashing down. The enemy opened fire, Buck lost his grip. We were separated, a car apart. I couldn’t reach him in time. He fell.”

Tony studies the frozen lines of Steve’s face. “You know that’s not your fault, right?”

“Yeah.” Grudging, like Steve’s still trying to convince himself. Tony frowns.

“And he knows that, too?”

“Sure.” Steve’s smile is brief, but fond. “He’s not that kind of guy.”

Good, Tony thinks.

“Anyway, he broke the arm, up high under his shoulder socket. But we still had to take the train. By the time we cleared it and made it back to him, frostbite was dug in. They had to take the whole thing off.”

“Shit.”

“Took a while before he got the prosthesis he has now. He went through a hell of a lot of crap limbs. He has pretty good control now, though. The arm he’s got, it’s… Well, it’s a prototype. Top of the line. He’s lucky.”

Tony nods, thoughtful. That one is a newer prototype, but even as it went into production, Tony could see where improvements could be made. Kid seems to be wearing it well, though. “Rough gig.”

“Yeah,” Steve sighs. “He was in a POW camp for a while afterward. Got nabbed during transport, on his way home, for god’s sake.” Steve goes quiet for a moment, swallowing the rise in tone. “So he has other issues. His health was completely shot before he got out.”

Tony looks back up at the stars. Frowns. “I have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.” More or less. It’s not an ICD you’d find in any modern hospital. But Tony’s not huge on discussing the details. He’s not even sure why he’s discussing this now.

Steve lifts up onto one elbow. “What? Why?”

“Accident a few years back.” He rubs his chest instinctively. There’s barely a scar worth noting at this point. “My heart doesn’t keep its beat so well on its own.”

Steve doesn’t say anything. Tony rolls his eyes at himself. Yeah, he doesn’t know what he’d say to that either.

“Are you alright?”

Okay, so maybe he judged too soon. Again. He pushes up onto an elbow as well, facing Steve. “Just peachy. Most days, I don’t even remember it’s there.” Slight exaggeration, but essentially the truth. Tony can’t forget it’s there because Tony’s the one who designed the final product and made sure they put it there.

But anyway. Semantics.

Steve smiles at him again. This one is faint. Accepting. And now it’s Tony’s turn to blush.

He lunges for his milkshake. Steve, inexplicably, says, “Hey, shooting star,” and swings his arm up. And that’s all she wrote.

“Fuck.” Tony lurches upright, pulling the shirt away from his skin, but it’s too late. His Big Gay Tang-Creamsicle sludges gleefully down his front.

“Damn it.” Steve’s all hands, glorious, glorious hands all over Tony, brushing and wiping, flicking excess dessert onto the rooftop. “I’m sorry, I’m so... Oh, wait—” But it’s too late for that as well: it’s leaking into Tony’s pants, right over the family jewels.

He can’t not laugh.

“Tony, what’s wrong?” He must sound horrifying; Steve certainly looks concerned. Tony wipes his eyes.

“Shrinkage,” he manages between hysterical snickers. “Sorry, Cap. ‘Fraid I can’t help you out tonight after all.”

And there goes that enchanting blush again. Steve hauls him to his feet. “Come on,” he mutters. “I’m on the fourth floor.”

~tbc~

Chapter Text

“Nice use of space,” Tony says, toweling his hair dry.

It’s tiny, is what it is, but the furniture has been creatively placed to open up the living room-slash-kitchen. A battered plaid couch just barely shares the wall with the front door; when the door opens, it scrapes along the outside of one arm, rubbing the fabric threadbare. There’s an armchair tucked into the corner under the only window, right where the sunlight would stream over it, and the TV, a bulky old thing that must weigh more than a truck, is on the cabinet that holds a bunch of dishware. Half of the cramped space is cordoned off into a second sleeping area by a curtain strung between the front door and a standing lamp, and Tony accidentally walked into the closet of the single bedroom because the en suite bathroom door looked far too narrow to actually be an en suite bathroom door. But all in all, it’s not so bad.

Fuck, yes, it is, the whole thing’s about the size of Tony’s pantry.

He shakes out the towel, padding across thick carpet (see, now, that at least is lush), shuffling a little in the borrowed sweats. On the other side of the (tiny! miniscule!) space at a little folding table, Steve gets slowly to his feet. Now, that boy has got to stop swallowing like that where Tony can see. Tony might get ideas. More ideas than he already has, anyway.

“Sorry.” Steve’s voice cracks. He gestures at Tony’s clothes. “They don’t really fit you.”

“See, I think they’re fine.” He looks down at the cinder gray shirt, worn to gossamer thinness, and the navy sweatpants with the raggedy ends drowning his feet. They came out of the bottom drawer in the bedroom’s bureau, but Tony could tell that the bed belongs to Steve’s buddy: there are heavy duty painkillers on the side table and a shoulder-strengthening bungee or three looped around the lamp. No, Steve sleeps out here behind that there curtain. Tony wiggles his toes at Steve, and then his eyebrows. He shuffles the four inches to the couch and collapses down onto it, spreading both arms across the top. “I feel right at home.”

Steve clears his throat. He has yet to stop staring. Tony drinks it right up. These are definitely Steve’s clothes. Tony knows that special feeling that comes from seeing the object of one’s desire wearing one’s clothing after having used one’s shower to clean up.

Just a step away from outright sex, that. Tony hitches a heel up onto the couch, bending his knee and letting it drift a little wide, and Steve swallows again.

“I made coffee,” he says.

“Who told you?” Tony asks, charmed.

Steve is adorable when he’s confused. “Told me what?”

“How to get exactly what you want out of me?”

Steve clears his throat again and turns around fast, grabbing mugs from the shelf above the stove. It’s all open shelving, no cupboard doors. Tony’s willing to bet that Steve and this James Buchanan Barnes put them up themselves.

“Don’t worry,” Tony says lazily, watching the muscles of Steve’s shoulders as he pours the coffee and digs spoons out of a drawer. “My friend Pepper uses it against me all the time. She’s an ace at getting me to do all kinds of things.”

“Is Pepper her real name?” Steve asks the counter.

“Nope.”

Steve turns around, holding two steaming mugs with spoons sticking out of them. He wets his lower lip, a quick dart of his tongue. His pupils are huge.

Oh, Tony could kiss that mouth. He’d kiss it so good.

“So,” Steve says. “Cream or sugar?”

Especially that lower lip. Tony shifts in his seat. “Lots of cream.”

If the suggestion registers, Steve doesn’t show it. Tony mourns the loss. He hasn’t had this good a night in days, and there have so far been no actual orgasms in sight.

Actually, he… hasn’t had this good a night in ages. Tony cocks his head and frowns at Steve’s back. Jeez, what is it about this guy? He has to be at least ten years younger than Tony. Despite their many charms, Tony’s never been all that attracted to the younger set, at least not like this.

And yet.

Tony snaps his fingers, drawing Steve’s eyes from where he’s closing the fridge. But he barely notices; he’s figured it out: Steve stimulates his mind as well as his body. Now that is rare. “What time is it?”

“It’s…” Steve cranes to look, Tony supposes, at a clock on the wall that Tony can’t see. Oven must be over there, too. “Nearly twelve?”

Six hours. Six fucking hours and Tony’s not bored, and he hasn’t had sex either, which is usually the way he alleviates said boredom.

“Oh, god, it’s nearly twelve,” Steve says, drawing Tony’s attention back with a thump. “That’s, that’s a while.”

He looks at Tony earnestly, and for a moment, Tony can’t figure out what he’s talking about. Then it hits him. He has to stifle the laugh. Steve thinks his meter, as inactive as it is, has run out.

Tony is wearing this man’s clothing. He has been naked in this man’s shower. He’s toured his dump of an apartment and sat on his saggy couch and left a two-thousand-dollar suit dripping ice cream onto his cracked bathroom tiles, and all Tony wants is to do it all over again.

“Yeah,” he murmurs, voice going low on its own, as close and comfy as this little room. “Yeah, it is a while.”

“I don’t want to monopolize you,” Steve says, sounding somewhere between worried and forlorn.

Tony gets up from the couch and walks up to Steve where he stands, still holding the two mugs. He takes one of them, holds it under his nose, and draws a rich, aromatic breath. They are a foot away from each other. “It wouldn’t be monopolizing if you did it.”

He doesn’t even know what that means, exactly, but Steve is caught staring down at him, young and gorgeous and bewildered and aroused. Tony’s not imagining that. He can’t see anything, per se, but he can feel it like a tremor.

God. If only Steve would make the first move. As turned on as he is, skin practically buzzing with it, Tony’s muscles refuse to take that leap. Steve hasn’t jumped him all night, hasn’t initiated so much as a lean into his personal bubble. Tony thinks more and more that his instinct was right: Steve Rogers is not ready for this.

But he’s trying to be.

Tony takes a long drink of his coffee, enjoying the slightly stale bean flavor if only because they are Steve’s slightly stale beans made in Steve’s cheap coffee machine and topped off with Steve’s store brand half-and-half, and smiles helplessly at him. “It is late,” he agrees, and presses the mug back into Steve’s hand with a pat. “I should get going.”

He’s not sure what to make of Steve’s expression. A mixture of things, none of them bad for Tony. The tiny trace of apprehension that follows the brief fling with a heart-stalling determination, however, cements it for him. “It’s been real, kiddo,” he says, and revels unashamedly in that beautiful blush. Man, he’s getting to be on intimate terms with that blush.

Steve’s lips part, just a smidge. Tony hears him inhale. The air grows suddenly warm and thick, and Tony… Shit, he is so close. One kiss, that’s all. Just a kiss on that plump, perfect bottom lip.

Tony can’t bring himself to do it. At the last second, he angles to the side and busses Steve on the cheek. And lingers for a moment, inhaling, regretting, memorizing Steve’s scent.

He cannot stay here, or he’ll do something rash. Well, more rash than is good for Steve.

“Thank you.” He pulls away and gives Steve what is undoubtedly a sappy smile. “The perfect gentleman.”

“You’re welcome,” Steve says softly. Then he rallies, blinking. “Wait. Where… It’s midnight. You’re all the way in Brooklyn.”

“Not to worry, Cap.” How did that become a thing? He doesn’t know Steve’s rank. “Got a friend with a place right over the East River. Nothing a cab can’t manage.” It’s not even a lie; Rhodey’s high rise is over there, with the cushiest couches known to man, and it’s way too late to get Happy out of bed, but Tony’s got credit cards. What luck, he can pay for his ride first and jimmy Rhodey’s lock after. “Can I keep these for now?” he asks, gesturing to his borrowed clothing. “I’ll bring them back.”

“Sure,” Steve says dazedly, his eyes tracking the fit once more.

Yeah, Tony really needs to leave. “I’ll come back for my suit.”

“But…”

Tony winks at him. “I’ll be fine. I grew up in this city.”

He rubs Steve’s arm, once up and down, and reluctantly lets him go. He finds his way to the door, shimmies into his shoes, and lets himself out of the apartment with a smile on his lips. As he walks down the street out front, heading for the next big thoroughfare where he can hail a cab, he imagines he can feel Steve’s eyes on him from the window above.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Sunlight spears across Steve’s eyes, and then “Hm, eight AM, still in bed; must have been a mighty fine night” spears through his ears.

Steve groans, pressing his pillow over his face. “Shut up, Buck.”

His tiny cot bounces. And bounces. And bounces again. The springs squeak and shriek as Bucky bumps up and down on the edge, forcing Steve to roll into his back. “Damn, you didn’t use this thing, did you? Noisy as hell.”

“I didn’t use anything,” Steve mumbles. He’s tired. Despite the minor earthquake, he starts to drift. It’s kind of soothing. Until— “Eight AM?”

“On the dot.”

He lurches upright, nearly knocking Bucky off the thin mattress, and jumps over the shoes and jeans he kicked off onto the floor. He practically rips the curtain down rushing through it. “I have to go to work!”

Bucky follows him into the bathroom, grinning in the mirror as Steve brushes his teeth with one hand and scrubs soap over his face with the other. “So?”

“So what?” Jeez, he needs to shave. He rubs his hand hurriedly over his chin, eyeing the scruff under the blistering bathroom light. Maybe not, maybe he can just say he’s starting a beard.

“So what?” Bucky scowls. “So how was it? Was he good?”

No, he definitely needs to shave. He still hasn’t recovered from the fallout of that one summer he spent nursing four blond chin hairs, so proud that even Bucky didn’t have the heart to pop his pubescent bubble. Steve brandishes a can of shaving cream, hunting around in a drawer for his razor. “You better be out of here by the time I’m actually armed.”

Bucky considers it, then shakes his head. “Nah. You’d never mess up this puss.” He rubs his own chin critically, making faces in the mirror over Steve’s shoulder. Steve lathers up, wincing in anticipation of discount blades against skin that’s still too dry. Bucky reaches around him for his toothbrush, fumbling a little one-handed. He hasn’t put the arm on yet. Steve pauses, squeezes some toothpaste out for him, and starts in on his upper lip with careful, efficient strokes.

“There is a man’s suit hanging in our tub,” Bucky comments presently, mouth full of foam.

“Yep,” Steve says, moving to the right side of his mouth.

“Ergo, there was a naked man running around the hovel.”

“Nope.” Left side.

“Not nope.” Bucky leans around him and spits, careful not to jar his elbow. “In fact, he must still be naked. Is he in my closet?”

Steve rolls his eyes and starts in on his chin. “Like he’d ever fit in there.”

“Was he rich? He looked rich.”

Steve’s glad of the shaving cream; it hides the heat in his cheeks. “Well, he wasn’t poor,” he hedges.

“You guys used my bed,” Bucky accuses, pointing at the mirror with his toothbrush. Steve spins around, fumbling the razor.

“We did not use your bed!” He turns back to the sink, dunks the razor, then grabs the nearest hand towel. Screw this, he’ll skip his jaw. The hairs there are too light to see anyway.

“Why not?” Bucky follows him out of the tiny bathroom to the bureau, where Steve is hopping out of one pair of boxers and into another. “What’s wrong with my bed?”

“What’s wrong with your bed?” He shrugs on an undershirt, and unearths a mostly wrinkle-free dress shirt from the drawer, grabbing a pair of pants from one of the coat hangers on the bed frame. He frowns at them, not sure if they’re Bucky’s or his. He shuffles them over his feet and tugs them up. They button; good enough. “Fine. We had sex in your bed. All night.”

“You did? No, you didn’t.”

“Well, not all night.” He gestures at various pieces of furniture as he hurries back through the main room to the kitchen. “We wore out my bed first, then the couch. Then the kitchen counter.”

“Come on.” Bucky comes up behind, pulls four slices of toast out of the toaster and grabs butter and jam from the fridge. “No one fits on this counter.”

“Careful of those bananas, I can tell you exactly where they’ve been.” Steve snags a comb from atop the TV and jerks it through his hair. If he runs, he can still make it. His stomach growls like a monster. God, he hopes it’s not muggy out. He hates starting his day off with sweaty underarms.

Bucky tosses him one of said bananas. “You’re full of shit, you know that?”

“I thought you’d be proud.”

“But you did bring him here?”

Steve sighs. “Yes, I brought him here.” He takes a big bite of banana, chews zealously, and swallows. “We had a little accident with a milkshake. He needed a clean set of clothes.”

Bucky nods, satisfied. He props the slices under the cutting board for leverage, butters and jams two of them, presses them together like a sandwich, and passes them to Steve all one-handed. Steve juggles them while he pulls on suspenders and buttons up his dress shirt. He pauses long enough for Bucky to straighten his collar and dust him free of crumbs, then stuffs the rest of the banana into his mouth. “Gah-uh goh.”

“Here.” Bucky passes him his messenger bag. “Oh, and Steve?”

Steve turns in the doorway, eyebrows up. “Yeah?”

“Please tell me he agreed to be your sugar daddy so we can move out of this dump.”

Steve hurls his banana peel at Bucky’s head.

**
**
**

“Oh, hell no. I swear to god, Tony, if you slept with that poor boy under false pretenses and then took his money—”

“Ow!” He takes a pillow to the face and falls off the couch. “Ow, what? Rhodey?”

“I will throw you down the stairs, and then I’ll tell Potts and she’ll throw you down the stairs—”

“Ow, stop, wait, I didn’t, I didn’t take his money!” Tony shields himself, curling up and tucking in, arms over his face. “I didn’t even sleep with him!”

Rhodey pauses. “Oh. Where the hell is your jacket then?”

Tony blinks at him from the floor. He’s in Rhodey’s living room, a foot from Rhodey’s cushy couch, and it is way too bright in here. “My what?”

“Your nine hundred dollar jacket? And cufflinks? And tie? Fuck, Tones, you’re not even wearing your own clothes!” He raises the pillow again.

“There’s an innocent explanation for this,” Tony blurts, flinging up his hands again to ward off the blow. “We spilled a Big Gay Tang-Creamsicle on me, he took me to his place and gave me some of his duds to wear, that’s all!”

“Is that some kind of euphemism?”

“No! Strictly un-euphemized, I swear.”

Rhodey eyeballs him menacingly, even in his rubber ducky pj pants. Tony swallows. “I swear,” he offers again, for good measure.

“On your mother?”

“On my mother.”

Rhodey lets the pillow swing down to his side. “Well, then.”

“Yeah,” Tony says vaguely, and then they sit there for a while, looking at each other. Well, Tony sits, looking up at Rhodey, who stands. Rhodey is tall. Tony’s about to complain that his neck hurts when Rhodey folds down onto the floor Turkish style, sliding the pillow under his butt and scooting forward like a kid.

“So, how was it?”

Tony levels himself fully upright and arranges his own legs. “It was nice.”

Rhodey lifts a skeptical eyebrow. “And he believed you? That you were...”

“Far as I can tell. I gave him a freebie for serving our country.”

“Damn, Tones,” Rhodey breathes, closing his eyes and shaking his head. He sighs, twitching out his shoulders. “Okay. Tell me what all you did.”

It’s Tony’s turn to eye him askance. “You don’t need to look like you’re about to be traumatized. I said I didn’t sleep with him.”

“Yeah, well, with you, that only covers so much.”

True. Tony waves it away. “In this case, it covers everything. We walked. We ate hot dogs and ice cream. He took me up on his roof to watch the stars—”

“Hold on, his roof?”

“—and we talked, and that’s all.” Tony spreads his hands, shrugging, and Steve’s shirt pulls neatly around his waist. He decides he really likes it.

“Nuh-uh,” Rhodey says after another long look. “No. Not you, I don’t believe it for a second.”

“You know, it’s really hurtful that you think that of me.”

Instead of being properly chastised, Rhodey barks out a laugh. “I know you, Tony Stark. And I saw that guy. There is no way you didn’t try for something more.”

Tony gives up the affronted patina. “Alright, I kissed him.”

In spite of himself, Rhodey smiles. “Now that’s more what I expected—”

“On the cheek.”

“What?” Rhodey also looks cute while befuddled, but not nearly as appetizing as Steve. Probably because he’s got his nose all scrunched up like Tony smells bad. “On what cheek?”

Tony smacks Rhodey’s shoulder. “Jeez, get your mind out of the gutter. His cheek cheek!”

“Are you sure? Because sometimes you’re drinking and you get confused. Are you certain it was up here?” Rhodey points at his face. Tony bats the finger away.

“Yes. And I don’t drink anymore, Rhodey, it’s like you don’t know me at all. You think I’m proud of it just being his cheek? Let me make this very clear, I did not just want to kiss his cheek.”

“But you did anyway,” Rhodey says slowly.

“I did anyway.”

“Wow.” Rhodey sits back, blinking. “Wow, this one did a number on you.”

Tony’s face heats, an unexpected flush, and Rhodey honest-to-god gasps. Like a little girl.

“Wow.”

“Shut up.”

“No, no, this is newsworthy, this is the stuff of Fallon.”

“Cute.”

“I’m gonna call Jimmy. Right now.”

“He won’t answer. I told him to block all your calls.”

“He’ll answer this one.”

“Good luck.”

“I’ll text him first so he has a teaser.”

“Like you could stop fangirling long enough.”

“‘Tony Stark karaokes to Burt Bacharach.’”

“That was one time!”

“‘Tony Stark blushes like a Campbell’s kid.’”

“You take that back.”

“No, I’m going to the Times with this. They’ll want to know all about this guy. We have to find him again, they’ll need pictures for the—Tony, stop it, are you smelling his shirt? Stop smelling his shirt.”

“Smells like him,” Tony says, muffled in the shirt collar.

“I hope you mean it smells like his detergent,” Rhodey says archly, “otherwise you’re wearing a stranger’s used shirt.”

“I wouldn’t even care if it smelled like his armpit,” Tony sighs into the fabric.

“Thought you kissed his cheek. How would you know what his armpit smells like?”

“It smells like freedom.”

Rhodey looks at him for exactly three seconds, then gets up. “I’m making coffee.”

**
**
**

The not-for-profit where Steve works is tiny, even for a hole in the wall. The east window floods heat in for the first half of the day. Steve’s jacket was off five minutes after his arrival, his sleeves rolled up and his shirt open at the throat. Buck hasn’t been in since this latest issue with his electrolytes, so even though there’s enough for four people to do, Steve’s it. The A/C’s on the fritz again, of course; their two fans buzz noisily, keeping the room in a constant state of cyclone.

Seriously, they have thirty paperweights.

Steve spends his day on the phone with subscribers. He spends his day winding back and forth between the filing cabinet and the shelf full of accounting binders, and spinning from computer to printer in his endless campaign to force their taxes into a semblance of legality. He spends his day thinking about Tony.

There’s something in him that won’t quiet, richer than anxiety, and he has no outlet for it. He constantly has to keep himself from getting up and walking... he has no idea where. He feels like he’s meant to be doing something specific, right this second, and all of it involves creation, not tabulation and financial strategy.

He itches for his art books.

At five forty-two, with about seventy percent of what he needs to do done, he figures it’s time he went and saved Bucky.

Buck goes for half days down to the borough’s orphanage and gets buried under twenty-two children ages four to thirteen and all the Play-Doh, paint, and snotty handkerchiefs they can throw at him. Their soft spot for the place goes a mile deep: Steve’s mom used to volunteer as their nurse after work. When she passed, Steve spent his time there in between art school and his job, forcing his pain back and grounding himself in the knowledge that, while he was now truly alone in the world as far as family went, he had it better than most of the kids there, whose parents were long gone for one reason or another years before they were old enough to fend for themselves.

All the noise is coming from the rec room. Steve checks in with the nuns at the front desk, and Sister Agatha takes him back to sort things out properly. True to form, Bucky is in a pile of children, supervising Twister and stuffing his face with Nutter Butters. Steve comes up behind him and snaps the bag out of his hand. “Buck, what did I tell you about stealing snack from kids?”

“Aw, come on.” Bucky makes a grab, but there’s a little boy in his lap helping him with the spinner, so Steve’s not worried. He makes a show of sticking a cookie in his mouth, then turns around just in time to catch an airborne six-year-old.

“Steve!” She wraps around him like a lemur.

“Hey, Sash. Warn a fella, would you?”

She laughs and hugs him again.

“Who’s winning?” he asks, handing her a cookie, then backtracking. She has marker all over her hands. “Here, let’s go wash those fingers first.”

The sink is low, blocky, and chipped, like in all the old buildings around here. Once Sasha is clean(er), Steve makes sure she finishes her cookie before she goes back to racing around the room, then parks himself at the arts and crafts table and selects a crayon from the heap in the center.

“Whatcha drawing, Harley?”

Harley and Sasha Keener come to the childcare offered by the nuns after school. Unlike most of the kids, they have a home, and a mother who holds down two jobs and still puts a little aside to send her son and daughter here and help the orphanage at the same time. Their father walked off seven years ago. Steve can’t understand why; the asshole’s kids are great.

“Plans for a potato gun.” Harley’s tongue sticks out of his mouth while he sketches. “It’s going to French fry the potato in mid-air, or, well, chop it up anyway. Then you have to French fry it. I’m building it in the shed. I put a sight on it for longer range, but it’s too heavy. I keep dropping it, have to figure out another material.”

“What are you using now?”

Harley launches into his schematics while Steve grabs a fresh sheet of paper. He sidetracks to what he wants for dinner tonight (Steve draws a picture of a farmhouse with an old barn), yells at his sister to stop bonking him on the head every time she takes a lap around the room (Steve moves on to the colored pencils and sketches a fighter jet), tells Steve about the sponsored science fair he’s entering the gun in (Steve doodles a monkey on a unicycle), and asks Steve what he did over the weekend.

“Boy went on a date,” Bucky says, right behind him, and Steve jumps. For a guy with the tact of a Mack truck, he sure can sneak around.

“A date?” Harley wrinkles his nose. “Ew.”

“Yeah, Steve. Ew.”

Steve shrugs and keeps his eyes on his drawing. “Wasn’t so bad.”

“How could it not be bad?” Harley wants to know.

“Well, for one thing, we got ice cream.”

“Okay,” Harley says after a moment’s consideration. “I guess that’s kind of fun.”

“Oh, Steve had fun.” Bucky plunks down beside him and shoulders him in the ribs. His metal arm’s off, up on the Off Limits shelf where the kids can’t get hurt on it. “Didn’t you have fun, Steve?”

Steve knows he’s blushing. He sets his jaw. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

“Steve’s got a crush.”

Harley rolls his eyes and pats Steve’s arm. “Don’t worry. It’ll go away.”

“It’d be alright if it didn’t,” Steve says, and wants to slap himself when Bucky wolf-whistles.

“What, did you kiss or something?” Harley sounds horrified.

“No. We didn’t kiss or something.” Not for lack of wanting to, Steve thinks ruefully. And then he’s thinking of Tony’s mouth, and how close he got, and how his cheek back by his ear still feels five degrees warmer than the rest of his body. He can’t believe he’s talking to an eleven-year-old about the prostitute he picked up.

“Wait, really?” Bucky asks. When Steve looks at him, Bucky’s eyes are wide and genuinely sad. The only thing that saves it is the pout of his lower lip.

“Buck,” Steve warns. But Bucky just looks even more dismayed. “No,” Steve sighs, knowing that the fastest way out is through. “We didn’t.”

At least he’s not lying. He doesn’t think he could have this conversation knowing that he’d actually had sex with Tony. There are children here, and nuns. Bucky would see right through the lie, anyway.

Though, Steve’s really starting to regret the no sex with Tony thing. He knows he had reasons, but right now, with his heart sweetly achy and his mind full, they seem very far away. Couldn’t he have just given himself one night? He’s never going to see Tony again.

Except he still has the guy’s bespoke suit in his bathtub.

Steve’s face heats as he remembers Tony barefoot in their living room, wearing his clothes. Maybe he should just tell Bucky they had sex after all. Buck half thinks it anyway, and maybe if Steve paints it well enough, he’ll convince himself it’s actually true.

“Hey.” Harley comes around the table and points a finger at Steve’s drawing. “Hey, that’s really good. Who is that?”

Bucky takes one look and snorts. “I’m going to play Red Rover,” he announces, jumping to his feet and leaving Steve staring down at his drawing.

Of Tony. “Just a guy.”

“I wish I could draw like that,” Harley says distantly. Steve looks critically at his drawing. A sketch, really. The most basic of pencil lines, doesn’t even capture the essence of Tony.

“Wait, I know that guy!”

It’s Steve’s turn to snort. “I don’t think you know this guy.”

Harley sighs the sigh of the truly exasperated. “No, I don’t know him, know him. He looks like… I’ve just seen him before. Like, a movie star.”

Yes, thinks Steve mournfully, Tony would make a wonderful movie star.

“Seriously, he’s like, famous or something.” Harley snaps his fingers, eyes heavenward. “He looks like, like—Ow, quit it, Sasha!”

Harley upends the table lunging after his sister, who darts away giggling. By the time Steve has finished cleaning up the spilled art supplies, the picture is tucked safely in his pocket, and the nuns are bringing spaghetti and meatballs in from the kitchens for dinner.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

In the morning, Steve goes running.

His route ranges across several boroughs. He usually goes alone. He asked Bucky to come once way back in the beginning and Bucky laughed so hard he snorted Pabst Blue Ribbon up his nose. Sam used to run with him, but finally quit on the grounds that he could never hope to keep up.

Steve doesn’t think he runs all that far. Or fast. Some days, he just has a lot of energy. Plus, the sunlight’s good for him. In the worst dregs of his depression, just making sure he sat out in the sun once a day had been what tipped the scales. Vitamin D, brooder’s best friend.

He gets to see a lot of the city this way. And it’s nice, noting what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. When he first got back, dragging a bitter and malnourished best friend by the arm he had left, Steve almost couldn’t get out of the VA-provided cab. He just sat there, one leg out and one leg in, heart hammering, and staring shell-shocked at a city that seemed to have forgotten him. He’s used to it all now, but it was when he started running that he first noticed all the change New York City was constantly undergoing: buildings coming down, buildings going up, museums expanding, neighborhoods shifting back and forth from street to street, parks bursting into vigorous spring color. New subway lines and new shop fronts and new houses in splashy hues.

The world keeps on going, despite the damage and the suffering. At first, he’d been disturbed by that. He’d wanted people to acknowledge what was going on, and he’d wanted his home to stay the same, be the same. It hadn’t. Now it gives him a sweet, tantalizing hope, like anything’s possible.

He hits Gantry Plaza, then heads up, takes the Queensboro Bridge and runs along the other side of the river for a while. In Harlem, he works on breath control, then cuts all the way through Central Park and comes out the other side.

His thoughts are decidedly not on his feet. And damn it, this run was supposed to work all of that out of his system, but Steve doesn’t exactly need to think to move his legs and pump his arms and generally traverse the island of Manhattan. It’s too easy for his mind to wander right to the place it’s been living in for the past thirty-six hours.

“Doggone it,” Steve huffs, coming to a stop and bracing with both hands against his knees. He would stop thinking about Tony, if thinking about him didn’t in fact send Steve’s blood racing through his body, like Tony’s some kind of beacon he’s running toward, filling him up with energy and satisfaction and purpose.

Shouldn’t the blood be rushing to unhelpful areas? Places that make running not the done thing?

“He is a sex worker,” Steve grits to himself, wiping sweat from his face. “Not a sap magnet.” It doesn’t seem to matter, though: all his blood appears to be rushing straight to his heart.

Here he goes again, quietly pining for beautiful things that were out of reach from the start. Sometimes Steve thinks he does this to himself on purpose so he won’t ever have to find his way around a real relationship.

It’s a returning from combat thing, Sam has said. You’re still settling, not quite ready to get back into it all. Your emotions are practicing until you’re ready.

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve mutters to his emotions, breaking into a jog again and heading for the Hudson. “Stop hitching onto hookers you can’t have, you’re embarrassing me.”

The river reflects the blue sky like a mirror. They’re setting something flashy up at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, people scurrying over the big flight deck like squirrels. Steve slows to a walk and shades his eyes. He’s always liked this museum. It’s more creative than a lot of places he’s visited, and there’s always something going on. Right now, for instance, there seems to be an event in preparation: the frame of some sort of giant tent is going up on the pier next to the entrance, pulleys and ropes and young people hauling away to lever it into place. Steve can’t really tell, as it’s still in pieces, but he thinks that once it’s up, it’ll resemble a massive spiraled garlic clove, elegant spikes stretching toward the sky, graceful curves burgeoning at the bottom that remind Steve of ogee tiling. Damn, he’d like to draw this when it’s done, and then—

“Uh,” says Steve, and trips over his feet. Because there is said hooker that he can’t have, in torn jeans and a ratty black Pantera shirt, shouting and waving a blueprint at the skeletal arches being cranked slowly into position. As Steve stares, Tony gives up on the yelling, sticks his fingers in his mouth, and whistles one sharp blast.

“Hey!”

His helpers, because that’s what they are, stop all movement and crane toward Tony, who starts ordering them to do things Steve can’t make much sense of, but remembers a little bit from when the Commandos’ engineers set up a pontoon bridge across the Euphrates.

The arches are lovely. Steve shades his eyes, distracted by the sleek lines and… built in lighting? LED, solar, something. He doesn’t know. There are outlets embedded in the framework at intervals, and tasteful gossamer cords that have to be for conducting electricity trail from the structure like vines.

“Wow,” he says, too loudly, and Tony turns around and sees him.

Tony’s eyes bug out. He takes Steve in, top to bottom, then marches over to him. He walks a full circle around Steve where he stands, not even trying to hide that he’s checking the goods. It makes Steve flare bright inside, lungs hitching and skin breaking into a new sweat.

“Take five, everyone,” Tony says, flapping a hand behind him, “just, put it somewhere and go somewhere else, Steve?”

Steve waves, awkward. Tony opens his mouth, then traces again with his eyes, down and up. And maybe it’s just the sun, but the tops of his ears are pink.

“Ah.” Tony clears his throat. “You run. Jeez. Of course you run.”

“And you…” Steve waves a hand, helpless to take in everything Tony’s doing. Which is so not plying the trade Steve knows about.

“Hobby,” Tony says and shrugs. He sticks his hands in his pockets and scuffs his tennis shoes, the same tennis shoes he was wearing on their night out together. That, for some reason, is what really snags the breath in Steve’s throat. Tony gives him a sheepish, almost bashful smile. “MIT. Would have been magna cum laude, if they did that kind of thing.”

MIT? “Wow,” Steve says again. Not just stunning; intelligent, too. Steve knew that just from talking to Tony, but… “Wow.”

“Uh, Mr. St—Tony,” someone calls, a pale kid in a hoodie with an armful of insanely tiny machinery, and Tony’s shoulders bunch right up. He swivels, backing away, but the kid follows doggedly in his scuffed sneakers. “Sorry, you said Tony, I know you said Tony, where should I put the—”

“Break, I said break time.” Tony claps twice and waves the kid back with great sweeps of his arms. “Go eat someone’s lunch, get a hot dog or a deep fried Nutella—”

“It’s nine in the morning, Mr., I mean, Tony,” the kid says, looking lost.

“—so Egg McMuffin, just, I don’t know, a tub of protein, seriously, Pete, this guy could bench press you over here, go, eat.”

“Oh. Sure.” The kid nods, wide-eyed, trips on a shoelace, nods again, and makes tracks, glancing curiously at Steve as he goes.

And Steve… Steve is in a glorious state of shock. He’d thought Tony was alive the other night, but this Tony… Vibrant. Sparking. Lurid and luminous and vital.

Yeah, this is not helping his emotions practice more realistically.

“So.” Tony sways toward him, reaching out with one hand, but stops just short of Steve’s chest. His fingers curl back into a fist. Tony lowers his arm and raises his chin, then clears his throat again. “So, the muscles are not just for show.”

“What?”

“You’re kind of sweaty, Captain Catwalk.”

“Oh.” Steve runs a hand down his damp front, wincing at the cling of his shirt fabric. He probably smells, too. “Sorry.”

“Wrong answer.” Tony shakes his head and tsks. “Seriously, wrong answer.”

Steve doesn’t really know how to respond, or even if he’s supposed to. “Sorry.”

Tony glances over his shoulder, taking a quick sweep of the immediate area. Whatever he sees must be what he wants; he sidles a step closer to Steve, pushing his hands back into his pockets. Steve’s not the only one sweaty: the hair just above Tony’s ears clings to his skin in damp tendrils. It’s not a hot day, so Tony’s obviously been lifting along with these other people, exerting himself, and—

“It’s good to see you again.” Tony says it quietly, a smile quirking his lips. His eyes are shining. Steve can’t help but smile back.

“Yeah.”

They smile at each other for another moment before Steve comes to himself. “I still have your suit.” Just this morning, he’d lovingly slid the suit and its brand new dry-cleaning bag into the back of their itty-bitty coat closet where it wouldn’t get rumpled. The money had come out of his tiny Americana road trip fund and he considered it well spent.

Tony waves a hand. “Sell it. Or give it away, whatever you want. I have others.”

“Oh,” Steve says, heart dropping, the excuse to see Tony yet again disappearing out the window.

“Or I could come over and get it,” Tony says quickly. “Drop your clothes off, too. Later. Sometime. When’s good for you?”

All the time, Steve wants to say, anytime.

“Hey,” Tony says, clapping his hands again. Such beautiful hands, especially now that Steve has seen them holding blueprints, and in concert with those bare forearms. “You want to get coffee? We never got coffee the other night.”

“I made coffee,” Steve says, remembering the way Tony’s lips had pursed against the rim of the mug.

“I’m talking espresso. We never got espresso.”

“Well, it was night.”

Tony pffts. “Clearly you don’t know me.”

“I’d like to.” It’s out, in a haze very much like drunkenness, before Steve can drag it back in. Oh God, now he gets mouthy? Again, with the you-can’t-have-that, it’s-not-yours. He can’t deny that he wants it, and that he would very much like to know Tony well enough to understand why he needs espresso at night. Steve stares at Tony, wide-eyed, waiting to find out what effect his words will have.

That tiny smile grows, spreading across Tony’s mouth. For a long moment, Steve feels Tony’s eyes climbing over him, his face and throat and hair. “You want another date, soldier?” Tony asks, low and private, and then takes all the lewdness and flushes it right away with a surprisingly honest “Because I wouldn’t be averse to that.”

Steve licks his lips, and Tony’s eyes dart once.

“Look, I still can’t…” He stops, embarrassed, and looks down. He’s turning red again, he knows it, but it’s nothing Tony hasn’t seen before. “Can’t afford anything.”

But Tony just hooks an arm through Steve’s, tugging him against his body and away from the hubbub behind them. “Let’s just take a walk, then.”

“We did that already.”

“Walks can be free. Don’t you think walks should be free?”

Steve has to physically fight himself not to lean in and kiss Tony’s mouth. He’s a trained soldier. He manages.

“Sure,” he croaks, and smiles, and silently gives in. “Walks are free.”

**
**
**

Tony should tell him. He should tell him he’s not an escort, that Steve doesn’t have to pay for a thing with him, that Steve can have it all, not just the walk, free of charge.

But he’s having a hard time thinking.

Steve glows. His skin is this perfect, peachy sheen, glistening with sweat in the morning light. His hair falls just so across his forehead, spiked out from the moisture, darkened closer to his scalp. He’s wearing this white t-shirt that might as well have been molded onto him, and parts of it are transparent down by his ribs and in the small of his back. At his throat, the sweat settles into the hollow of Steve’s clavicle, accenting every flutter of his heartbeat, which Tony can see, thank you very much, and every breath Steve takes.

He has the loveliest voice.

“So what’s going on back there?” Steve asks, case in point. “All those kids?”

“The wave of the future. They’re setting up for a show this weekend. School thing, big contest. That gangly kid, the one a stiff wind could knock over, he designed that arch… canopy… thing. Inset lighting, hologram capability, mister, citronella, the works.” Tony smiles, smug and proud, and a whole bunch of other things. He nudges Steve with his elbow. “I have a friend who says I collect science kids.”

Steve’s grin is easy. “I think I know one of those. Science kids, I mean. He’s designing some gun that juliennes a potato when it fires.”

“Oho,” Tony says, and then Steve’s telling him about the fucking orphanage where he volunteers. Apparently, he reads and hugs and wrangles and patty-cakes and wipes snotty noses, all out of the goodness of his heart. Tony seriously sees stars.

“You’re just a great big sweetheart, aren’t you?” Tony says out of the blue, and Steve looks at him with raised eyebrows. His mouth is still open, mid-description of tiny human tornados.

“I… don’t know?” Steve gives a little puff of a laugh. “I guess I try to be.”

Tony just shakes his head.

When they push through the doors into the coffee shop, Steve stops dead in his tracks. “There’s, uh. There’s no menu.”

Tony scoffs. “Of course there’s a menu. You think they’re going to put it up where any old Joe can read it?”

Steve glances around, ears pinking at the patrons who have turned to look down their noses at him, and sticks his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know what to get,” he admits quietly.

“Are you a sweet guy or a salty guy?”

Steve’s ears are getting awfully red, but he answers gamely enough. “Sweet guy, I guess.”

“And you actually want to taste your coffee when you drink coffee?”

“I used to.” Steve frowns. “Think I got a little coffee’d out overseas. We didn’t have much in the way of sweetener.”

“Say no more.” Tony rubs his hands, steps up to the chipper barista, and orders Steve a breve latte with a splash of simple syrup.

“Oh,” Steve groans, long and loud on his first sip, prompting a tiny cheer from the barista behind them. Good thing, too, because a much less public-oriented part of Tony’s body just started cheering, too. He edges up against the counter and leans inconspicuously. Steve draws another long sip, then holds the cup up to look at it. “Oh, this is good. What am I drinking?”

“A shot of espresso and a vat of half-and-half.” Tony’s still working on composing himself.

Steve gurgles through his next sip, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Half-and-half? Like, steamed half-and-half? They do that?”

“Hell, these guys will steam anything you want. This is Manhattan.”

“So it’s not actually about knowing the secret menu, then.”

“No, it is,” Tony says, considering. “It’s just also about bluffing.”

Steve laughs. It’s wonderful.

All the tables outside are taken, so they loiter around the patio’s edge, drinking their drinks and taking in the bustling morning. The sweat in Steve’s hair has dried and his bangs are now fluffing in the breeze. Tony wants to drag his fingers through them, sort out what’s so blue about those eyes, and generally just stare at his mouth. While Steve drinks his devil-sent coffee. And moans about it.

Tony may have made a slight miscalculation.

“So, uh.” He checks his phone without actually absorbing what time it is, too distracted by Steve’s throat as he swallows. “I have to—” Checks again, oh, wait, actually he really, ah no— “I should really get back,” he admits, dismayed, and shrugs a little. “Those kids. Probably set off a singularity if no one’s there to supervise.”

“It’s great that you’re helping them,” Steve says. It’s so genuine Tony blinks.

“I like doing it,” he answers, and realizes that he really does. “And I like science. Science is great, science is… really great. Uh, let’s walk.”

Steve falls in, heading back the way they came. He’s got long legs. Tony can’t possibly be blamed for shortening his stride. And meandering. Anyway, Steve doesn’t comment on that. What he does comment on is—

“So why doesn’t MIT do magna cum laude?”

“Huh? Oh.” Tony starts explaining the school’s statement of purpose and ends up sidelining into all the ways he and Rhodey took the piss out of it while they lurched through their exams—well, Rhodey lurched and Tony tried to moderate his friend’s agony—“and so we used to yell through the wall that some-a come loudly and those with magnums come loudest, but nobody comes louder than the co-eds next door, you know, when they weren’t even trying to be quiet, and,” oh god, he’s really talking about this in front of Steve, why does he always do this shit?

“I don’t think I got that reference,” Steve says slowly.

“You know what, never mind, it’s a stupid, yeah, it’s an inside joke.”

After a second, Steve says, looking straight ahead, “Maybe if you told it a little laude.”

Tony double-takes, then bursts out laughing. Steve’s grin slides as wide as the island.

“So,” Tony says once he’s calmed down, “do you just wander the city all day in form-fitting clothing?”

Steve’s cheeks are red. It might be the wind off the river. Tony doubts it. “I have to go into work this afternoon. Big mailer going out. My mission is to lick stamps.”

“Hmm, lucky stamps. What’s your evening looking like?”

He’s looking away when he asks it, feigning interest in the crowd around the museum as they approach. He doesn’t see Steve’s face, but he can guess at the look he’s getting.

“My evening?”

“Closing up shop here at six-thirty.” He really thought he’d never see Steve Rogers again. This, this morning is a gift, crashing down from heaven, and Tony’s still coming down from it. Can he help it if he’s clinging to its hem? “All the kiddies have to get home for dinner. But I don’t have to get home. For dinner.”

“Are you, um.” A hand circles lightly around his arm, drawing him to a stop, then letting go. Tony turns into it, facing Steve at last. Steve’s expression is just… curious, though there’s a faint glint in his eyes that doesn’t quite fit. “Are you asking me if I want to…”

He gestures. It’s about as good as Tony can do, too. So he gestures as well. “Yeah. You know. If you’re free.”

“You’re not busy?” Steve asks, definitely carefully.

Tony shrugs. “Penciled the whole day out for this thing. Wasn’t sure how late we’d be here.” His heart has sucked up behind his tongue. He casts another glance at Steve but can’t hold it. “We could meet here. The High Line’s right over yonder.” He needs to stop talking and let Steve answer. He clamps his mouth shut.

“I still can’t—” Steve starts.

“My day off,” Tony interrupts as blithely as he can. “I’ll spend it how I like.”

For a creeping second, he’s not sure what’s about to happen. But then the smile climbs back into Steve’s eyes and some of the incredulity fades.

“Okay.”

~tbc~

Chapter Text

By the time six o’clock rolls around, all the trifolds have even seams, all the envelopes have been stuffed and stamped, and Bucky has just walked out the door with the box, to drop it off in the building’s atrium for pick up. He’s been here since three, helping Steve wrestle this mailer into submission, and against all odds, it’ll now go out tomorrow morning. He even wore the arm to help, despite the pain that the shoulder attachment causes after a few hours.

The steady whirring and clanking may as well have been a clock ticking, though, because Steve’s antsy as hell.

The plan occurred to him midway through the afternoon, and it was a good thing Bucky wasn’t there yet, because Steve had to get up and hyperventilate a little, and then pace the tiny office for five whole minutes in order to settle down. Now, the hour is waning, his shoulders ache and his fingers sting from paper cuts, and he is so homed in on the target that he can taste it. His blood is thrumming, his heart beating that steady thumpthumpthump like it used to on a mission.

If you go, his mama always said, you’d better go full throttle.

But first he has to make it out of here, without being sussed out. As soon as the office door shuts behind Bucky, he scribbles a quick note—Nat called, had to run, thank you thank you THANK YOU—and is halfway into his jacket when Bucky comes back into the room, scratching his head. “Hey, where’d you put the key for the—Hey.”

Steve freezes, hand stretched out to grab his messenger bag. Bucky looks him over.

“Leaving without me?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, “yeah, I told Nat I’d help her with something, are you okay locking up?”

Bucky’s eyes narrow. “Nat’s out of town.”

Shit, shit, “I know, I said I’d feed her fish, but I forgot, it’s been two days, I have to—”

“Nat left this morning, Rogers.” Bucky draws his name out, prowling slowly around the far desk. Steve paces him, keeping the rolling chairs between them.

“Uh, well, I promised, so I’d better—” He realizes his mistake and makes a grab, but Bucky lunges, prosthetic arm whining, and snatches the note out from under his hand. He holds it up into the light.

“Oh, Nat called, did she?” There’s a gleam in Bucky’s eye that Steve does not like. It usually prefaces stealing the last slice of German chocolate cake right off Steve’s plate.

Steve lunges for the door. “Set the alarm, okay?”

“Steve!” Bucky yells, but Steve’s gone, down the hall, down the back stairs, racing for the bus on the corner. He jumps on board just as Bucky skids out the front entrance, and though Buck gives it a valiant try, the driver is already pulling away.

The bus takes forever, and Steve jiggles his leg all the way through it. They don’t live that far from where they work, and sure as hell, Bucky’s not going to let this slide. He may have funky blood work at the moment, but the man can run.

Once he reaches the apartment building, Steve takes the four floors in what feels like two leaps, slams the door shut behind him and races for the shower, yanking off clothing as he goes. He’s in and out in three minutes, rinsing conditioner from his hair even before their clunky water heater catches up. He shaves what little stubble has reappeared, spritzes himself with his precious bottle of Calvin Klein, and hightails it to the closet. He dresses, towels his hair as dry as he can get it, gives his teeth a scrubbing, and makes liberal use of Bucky’s mouthwash.

He’s tying up his boots when the front door slams open, spilling a panting Bucky into the room. Steve jumps to his feet, hauls his leather jacket on and dashes past him, spinning him around on his way out the door. But it’s too late: Bucky has already given him the dreaded once over, eyes widening with delight.

“Hey,” Bucky wheezes, “hey—”

Steve takes the stairs three at a time, landing hard on the rickety bottom floor, hearing Bucky clattering back down after him. “Gotta go!”

“Hey,” Bucky crows gleefully behind him. “Hey, Steve!”

He bursts through the door, apologizing to little old Mrs. Martinez who is just starting up the front stairs with her groceries—“Here, let me take those for you, I’m going to set them up here, alright, oh, but don’t go in yet, just stand back for a second,”—then vaults over the stoop railing and sprints to the landlord’s shed, unlocking it faster than he ever has in his life and diving inside for what he keeps there. It’s a mighty shove and a grunt, but he rolls it out just as Bucky busts through the front door, stumbling sideways into the railing to avoid Mrs. Martinez. “Hey—oh, sorry, Mrs. M, hey, greased lightning!”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Steve mutters under his breath, bumping down the curb into the street.

“Is that my cologne you’re wearing this fine evening?” Bucky hollers from the porch, very loudly and very innocently.

Mrs. Martinez and the bewildered girls lounging against the windowsill of 1B start to laugh. Steve grits his teeth. It is not Bucky’s cologne, it’s his cologne, he spent two hours and half a paycheck picking it out a couple months back, no thanks to the peanut gallery.

“Hey, James Dean, what might you be needing two helmets for tonight?” Bucky cackles like a lunatic.

Someone up above them all wolf whistles. Halfway onto his bike, Steve cringes, ducking his head. He kicks the pedal down once, twice, hearing more catcalls and knowing exactly what it looks like. “I’m going to run you over,” he yells at Bucky over the noise.

“Nah, I’m way over here.”

“Wear a condom, dear,” Mrs. Martinez calls from the porch.

The third time, the ignition takes, roaring to life. Steve gives it an extra second to drown out Bucky’s howl of laughter, then peals out of there to the hooting and hollering of their neighbors.

**
**
**

Tony walks away from the car, shaking his arms out, then turns in place and walks back. “I’m telling him tonight, Hap.”

“Sounds good, boss,” Happy says, leaning out the driver’s side window. “What are you telling him again?”

“Doesn’t matter. How do I look?”

“Like a million—”

“A billion.”

“Like a billion dollars, boss.”

He’d better. He only had Happy dig out his favorite pinstripe and bring it over, and he only changed into it in the back seat of the Rolls—awkward, he hasn’t done a complete switch since he went to prom and he doesn’t bend the way he used to—and he only took forty minutes and half a container of styling cream to force his hair to behave. He even shaved using the rearview mirror. The evening’s cooling off, the streetlights coming on. It’s three minutes to seven.

“He’ll show, right? Yeah, he’ll show. He’s upstanding. Considerate. And if he doesn’t, we can just go find him, I know where he lives.”

“That’s a little creepy,” Happy says.

“Is it? Yeah, I guess it is, okay, scratch that, he’ll show up. Fuck, why won’t these cuffs stay down?”

Happy says something, but some idiot roars up on his motor bike like a Hell’s Angel and drowns him out. Tony whirls around, ready to ream the asshole for excessive noise pollution.

“Happy,” he ends up saying. Thinks he says it anyway. Maybe.

The bike’s roar dies down to a sputter, then quits completely. The rider kicks the stand down, removes his helmet, and then sits there, curling and uncurling his fingers around the handlebars. After a long, awkward moment, Happy calls from the Rolls’ driver’s seat, “It’s okay, boss, I know when I’ve been upstaged.”

Tony doesn’t respond. Tony is too busy locating his jaw on the sidewalk.

Steve is... Steve is...

Well, for one thing, he’s sitting on a customized 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA Liberator, one of those old army ones that just don’t get made anymore. He’s painted it a sleek, glossy black and upgraded some parts, but it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous beast, and Tony’s going to look at it exclusively for the next five minutes, otherwise he’s going to need to dive back into the Rolls and put on a different pair of pants, because Steve, Steve shouldn’t be allowed to pull this shit, they should have a law.

“Seven hundred cc HV V-twin in-line stroke,” Tony chokes, and puts his hands all over the chassis because he can’t exactly put his hands all over Steve’s chest. Can he? And maybe slide down to that stomach afterward and feel how taut those abs actually are? Could he sit on this bike while he feels Steve up, the vibrations thrumming through his thighs, the scent of oil and gasoline mixing with that delicious cologne he can already smell? No, no, that would be highly inappropriate, Tony knows that. He caresses the bike like it’s going out of style and gapes up at Steve, forgetting himself.

Holy mother of god. Steve’s got this knowing look that quirks his mouth just so. That, and his hair spiking from where it’s either been styled or hasn’t dried yet from his shower—fuck, his shower, Tony’s been in that shower, he can totally picture Steve in there with the tile and the, and the water—and the jeans that are faded and thinning in all the right places... Tony can tell when jeans have been purposely distressed. These jeans are like this because Steve gets down under this here bike and works on it, slicks oil up his forearms and wipes dirt across his forehead with a sweaty wrist and gropes blindly for the tools he needs, and whistles to himself, and uses the scuffed toe of his work boot to kick obstinate metal panels into place and rolls his gloves up and nudges them into his back pocket like they came along with him the day he was born.

Steve’s wearing a wine-red Henley that’s cleaving to him so very hard, and not a single button done up. Steve’s wearing a vintage brown leather bomber jacket that is not new and therefore probably smells like him from zipper to seam. Steve is wearing this glossy black belt that Tony’s hands are just itching to get hold of. Steve is also wearing—

“Aviators,” Tony says stupidly. Steve takes them off in a big hurry, and no, no, no, that’s not what Tony was going for. At all. Steve runs a hand through his hair and looks up at Tony with this worried half-smile.

“They’re new.”

“Uh-huh, good, sure.” Of course they’re new, otherwise Steve would never have made it past the East Village. Is he talking? He might still be talking. He runs his hands over the bike again because he has to touch something, but Steve’s still kind of sitting on it, and Tony needs to stop before he just rolls on up over Steve as well and climbs on the bike facing him and embarrasses the both of them.

Fifteen seconds and everything has changed. He’d known Steve was sweet, and hot, and kind and beautiful, but now Tony just wants him, so badly his belly hurts.

He plucks Steve’s aviators out of his hands and places them carefully back on Steve’s face, then leans back, taking his fill of him and the bike and the city around him. It is nice, very nice, but suddenly Tony’s missing those baby blues, so he removes the glasses again, folds them neatly, and hands them back to Steve. “Sorry. One for the road.”

The way Steve’s looking back at him, they could be the only people in Manhattan.

“Happy, you can go,” Tony suggests faintly. Steve looks behind him, then gets up off the bike with a graceful swing of his leg, tugging on the hem of his jacket.

“Happy, is it?” He holds out a hand, leaning around Tony and sending another tantalizing thread of cologne into Tony’s nostrils. “I’m—”

“Steve, yeah, nice to finally meet you. Been hearing a lot about you.”

Usually Tony would be utterly opposed to his friends spilling incriminating information, but the look Steve shoots his way is shy and pleased. No way Tony’s killing that.

“I’ll take care of him,” Steve promises, and then his eyes go wide like he can’t believe what he just said. Happy laughs. At Tony, not at Steve, though Steve may not realize that. Happy knows Tony far too well.

“See that you do. Otherwise you’ll have a date with the board of investors. And me.” Happy pounds one fist into his other palm, gives Steve a toothy smile, and gets back into the car. “Give me a ring when you want me, boss. I’ll be in the area.”

“Yep.” Tony’s busy drinking Steve in again. Steve, who looks unsettled, watching the Rolls pull away.

“He’s kidding. Right?”

“Never could tell with Happy,” Tony admits.

Steve looks at him incredulously. “Board of investors?”

“Yeah, about that.” His nerve fails him and he redirects back to the bike. It’s a simple thing to fall in love all over again. “Hot damn, Rogers, where did you find this?”

Steve blushes, but this time it’s all for his baby. And it is his baby, Tony can tell when a man loves his bike. “Saved up for ages, from before I was deployed the first time. I’m still putting money down on it. Some of the guys I see get mad at me, you know, for changing her up. But this is the bike I want, the way I want it.” He runs a hand over the gleaming handlebars. Tony wants to chase his fingers.

Instead, he steps back, eyeing Steve over the top of his sunglasses. “You did this on purpose.”

“What?”

“This!” He flicks a hand up and down Steve’s body, at the bike, at the aviators. Work boots. Perfect, broken-in, tan work boots with knotted laces.

Steve ducks his head. “Yeah, maybe I did.”

It’s straightforward and unexpected. “Not fair,” Tony declares. “You didn’t even consider what I might have to say.”

Steve glances up at him and stills completely. “Oh, I considered exactly what you might have to say.”

Tony swallows hard. “You ever been to the High Line?” he rushes out.

“I was going to go, once.” Steve’s eyes go distant, trained now over Tony’s shoulder. “But I missed my date.”

“Oh.” Here there be minefields. Tony has no idea how big, or which one he’s already standing on. “Well, I know a restaurant on the Upper East Side if you’re in the mood for adventure. Funky waffles. Mussels, if you want. It’s not far from—”

“No, we can go,” Steve says, and nods down the street. “Try the High Line.”

“You sure?”

Steve reaches down and squeezes the side of Tony’s hand, then lets go. “I’m sure.”

“Okay.” Tony fidgets, feeling like an idiot while Steve gets back on the bike. He twists around and unstraps something from the back.

“Brought you a helmet,” he offers, holding it out. Tony takes it. It’s silver with a big red star on each side. Steve’s helmet hangs from the handlebars, blue and red concentric circles with a white star in the middle.

Tony grins. He tucks his shades away, buckles the helmet on, then swings a leg around the back of the bike and lowers himself onto the seat behind Steve. They both settle in together, Steve shifting forward, Tony sliding without thought to fit up against his back. His very warm back, all rich leather smell and the tease of that cologne. Steve kicks the starter down once, hard, setting the bike to purring. He lifts his elbows and eases both of Tony’s arms firmly around his middle.

And rests a hand right over Tony’s.

“Hold on.” His voice is husky, just for Tony’s ear. Tony tightens his grip.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Honestly, Steve is pretty much opposed to ever getting off his bike again.

He has Tony against him from neck to knee: Tony’s chest against the entire length of his spine, Tony’s thighs bracketing his, Tony’s arms slung round his middle like the best kind of seat belt. Body heat bleeds through the leather of Steve’s jacket, and every time he turns a corner, he catches a whiff of what must be very expensive cologne. More expensive than his, at any rate. Steve leans the bike this way and that through traffic, listens the steady in-out, in-out of Tony breathing through his nose, and imagines it’s Tony’s heartbeat he’s feeling against his back, even though he knows it’s his own pulse thudding in his ears.

But they’ve already reached the northernmost end of the High Line and Steve knows he’d look kind of stupid parked there on his bike while the sun sets, confusing his very open-minded date and missing the best views. He brings the bike to a stop and lets Tony dismount (and regrets the loss, does he ever) before kicking the stand down and climbing off. Once the bike is parked, there’s nothing left to do with his hands but stick them in his pockets.

He takes Tony’s hand instead.

If there is any surprise on Tony’s part, he hides it masterfully: his fingers slip naturally into Steve’s grip. Which is more than Steve can boast: he’s surprised at what he’s done. Glad, but somewhat shocked at himself. They head for the staircase at a stroll, Tony’s other hand in his pocket, his stride as lazy as a wafting feather.

Steve takes a moment to get his bearings.

He hasn’t thought about the High Line in ages. The last time he was here, he’d stood at the bottom of the steps on West 14th, seven hours shy of being carted to North Africa, and knowing, just knowing—

even though he could see Peggy above, leaning over the railing with her hair tumbled over her shoulder

—that he wasn’t going up there.

They were two comets, their courses set, their fire licking at each other, feeding each other, as they passed in the cold darkness of space. He didn’t want what she wanted.

He’d looked up, found her looking back. Golden-brown eyes, long lashes. The slight parting of her lips was what he remembered most clearly, that moment when she understood. He met her gaze, and in two seconds, he raced through three months, a hundred kisses, that strange, hooded silence that grew inch by inch, and felt them both decide. He doesn’t know how long he stood there, but she raised her hand at last, resigned and fleeting, and he remembered thinking, We’ll come around again. Maybe then.

Maybe then.

She’d gone to war, like him. She’d gone on to great things. He’d heard about some of them, but with each one he heard about, he understood more and more that their respective orbits were actually much longer and more solitary than he’d thought.

In fact, he’d been convinced for a while there that his orbit would keep going out into the void, indefinitely.

“Hey.”

He blinks. Turns, and Tony is searching his face, all of that intellect and focus zeroed in on him, Steve Rogers, and it’s not analysis. It’s perception. It’s Steve, in a city of millions, and none of them are here, as far as Tony’s concerned.

Steve has never been looked at like this.

“What are you thinking about in there?” Tony asks, jiggling Steve’s hand. The bite is sudden, and deep: hands are intimate, they’re the hardest to draw and the hardest to hold, to touch. They’re personal, and Tony’s got his hand by three fingers, hooked casually and purposefully, and Steve just met this guy, but it doesn’t feel like that anymore.

Steve’s smiles. It’s crooked, he knows. “The last time I was here.”

Tony studies him for another moment, then inclines his head toward the stairs. “You want to show me the ropes?”

Steve laughs. Can’t help it. “Blind leading the blind,” he mutters. “Never been up there before.”

“Then let’s pop each other’s cherries.”

It’s too damned hard to remain maudlin with this man. Steve may even have snorted (very unappealing), but if Tony doesn’t seem to care, why should he? He squeezes Tony’s fingers and mounts the staircase.

The air, despite being a mere two stories above street level, tastes somehow cleaner up here. The lighting is tasteful and hidden, just coming on as the sky blazes orangey-red, and there are a fair number of people still in the park. Despite this, there’s a sense of privacy, each person or couple walking in their own little bubble. Steve and Tony strike off down the walkway, taking a central route along planks burned rouge by the setting sun.

Tony sure is looking smart tonight. Steve has always had a fondness for a man in pinstripes. He can’t wear the pattern himself—makes his legs too long and his shoulders blocky—but looking’s sure not a hardship.

And he is looking right now. He’s doing more than looking.

It’s been over two years since Steve considered the practicalities of actually sleeping with someone he was attracted to, but looking at Tony tonight, he can see exactly how he’d go about peeling that suit off of him: which buttons he’d go for first, if he could unsnap the cuff links one handed, how much effort he’ll have to put into the tie. Not much, seeing as Tony’s already loosened it; the knot hangs low at his throat, framed by his open collar. How he’d lift Tony’s feet one by one into his lap to remove each shoe. How he’d slide his hand up under Tony’s pant leg in search of the top of each sock. How lucid he’ll have to be to manage the undershirt he suspects Tony has on.

Hell. He’s oddly not as freaked out by this as he feels he should be. He’s just... comfortable around Tony.

Thing is, he has little intention of actually sleeping with Tony tonight. It’s not what he wants out of him, even though it kind of is. A sensual and unfailing heat has been buzzing through him, low grade, every minute of every day since they met. But he wants Tony, too, not just the incredible body Tony comes in.

He’s itching to sleep with Tony. He doesn’t want to escape that thrum.

But he could go for years feeling this tug, never once give in, and never once regret that.

He wants to drag the shirt down Tony’s chest and put his mouth to the sweet spot just under his jaw, where the stubble plays like pepper over his skin.

He wants Tony’s hand in his, Tony’s eyes fixed on him again like Steve’s all he sees. He wants Tony’s laugh in his ears.

He wants Tony naked, bare skin glowing under the first morning light. He wants Tony’s knuckles salty and hot against his mouth.

He wants Tony to smile at him.

(For the record, it makes perfect sense in his head.)

“Last time I was here,” Tony says, “a freak rainstorm flooded the walkway. Seriously, it was sheeting off the sides onto the road. Like a waterfall. I was drenched.”

Steve imagines Tony in a transparent white shirt, his pants clinging to his thighs, and adjusts his stride discreetly. “When was that?”

“Last year?” Tony’s pace slows as he thinks, and Steve pauses, lets himself be tugged back to Tony’s side. “Huh. I don’t know. Kind of blurs together.”

“I haven’t been here in four years.” He doesn’t know why he says it. It’ll just prompt questions.

Except Tony’s quiet, for several yards. He eases them off center, bending over a colorful bush of lacy blue flowers. They are well away from the other people when Tony asks, “You said you missed your date?” and Steve realizes that Tony has maneuvered them out of earshot of anyone who might overhear.

That is what pushes him over. “I was with her for three months.” He doesn’t wait for Tony’s silence, though he knows somehow that he’ll get it. “Wasn’t that long, when you think about it. But we, we were… Well, it seemed longer.”

Tony nods, still contemplating the flowers. Steve might as well be telling him what he ate for breakfast for all the hype Tony’s giving it, and yet he knows Tony’s listening.

He’s barely even told Bucky this. That had been hard enough and he’s never wanted to revisit the pain that is Peggy since. But now, here, he takes it out and looks at it, and realizes that the worst part of it is missing. The words are finally ready to come out. “I’m the one who didn’t keep the date,” he admits. “I didn’t stand her up, exactly. That’s not me.”

Tony nods, catching Steve’s eye. “I know.”

Steve clears his throat. “She was going to teach me to dance.” He’s learned since then, but some days, he feels like he’ll never really know how. “I wanted to ask her… I don’t really know what I wanted to ask her. I had ideas then, but they all disappeared. I was down on the street and I was shipping out the next morning, and I looked up and saw her and it was just…”

“Over,” Tony says softly. Steve turns to him.

“Yes.”

Tony touches a fragile flower petal with one finger. “Some people, you just let go of. Before you know you have.”

“Yes.” How to explain that he’d known that night that he wasn’t coming back? It was funny: in the end, he had returned, but that night, with Peggy up above and the evening fragile and terribly finite around him, Steve had known it in his bones. He hadn’t been afraid. He’d just understood.

If he really thought about it, he’d been right. The Steve that Peggy Carter had loved hadn’t come back. And he doubted the Peggy he’d loved was the one who returned either.

He says this out loud, and lifts his shoulders, embarrassed. “Not that we couldn’t have started again. We didn’t fight. Hadn’t fought. At that moment, though, it was just over. She knew it too, I could see it.”

Tony’s brow pinches. “But you miss her.”

“Sometimes.” Less and less, of late. “It was fast. Fiery.” Seems to be how Steve operates, actually. Now, that is frightening when nothing else has been: Steve had always thought of himself as a cautious, conservative guy, but what does he know? Tonight, it’s right in front of his face in Technicolor. If not for the fact that Tony trades sex for money, Steve would already have offered to— “You hungry?”

Tony squints at him. “Are you okay, Steve?”

Tony is awfully pensive tonight. So many silences, not his usual gregarious self at all. Steve ditches his attempt to distract. “For a long time, I thought I was supposed to have been with her. The way I felt about Peggy… I tell myself it was good, had to have been. But I’ve never been able to remember it quite right. It’s like seeing someone else’s photo.” He smiles, suddenly unable to keep it down, all the melancholy replaced at once with giddy buoyancy, because it’s not so hard to understand after all, is it?

The High Line is surely beautiful, but tonight, Steve hasn’t actually appreciated one foot of it. He’s been too preoccupied appreciating elsewhere. “I remember it now,” he says. “I’m feeling it now, again.”

“Tacos,” Tony blurts, but in that instant before he does, his eyes are wide, childlike with amazement, his mouth open. He looks so young. His hand jerks in Steve’s, then clamps down, and he turns his face away. Steve sees him swallow.

“Tacos,” Steve repeats. He links their fingers carefully, palm to palm and plenty of time for Tony to pull away. Tony doesn’t so much as twitch. “Then I want to go find whatever that music is that I’m hearing.”

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Okay, this little tale of Tony’s? Totally breathing its last tonight.

By the time they reach the 10th Avenue Overlook, full dark has fallen. The amphitheater is staggered with visitors, and down near the bottom in a corner, a two-person band and a smoky-voiced lounge singer are adding to the general ambience. The lights ribbing each riser cast unusual darkness over the rest of the space, but toward the other corner, a few couples are dancing in a cleared space.

Tony and Steve both finished their tacos long ago, but they take a seat near the bottom and share the baklava Steve picked up when they ventured down to find the taco truck. Tony sucks pistachio bits from his thumb and ponders exactly how to reinvent the wheel.

There are people around, but the music is distracting enough, the shadows dark enough, to keep the eyes away from them. It’s a nice bonus, and it would be easy as pie to just procrastinate some more. But despite copious evidence to the contrary, Tony’s a grownup. He’s made his own bed and he’s fully aware he now has to lie in it.

He’d just like to remake the bed instead of burning it completely. It’ll all depend on his approach, and on how Steve takes the news.

But he hadn’t expected the High Line to come with such heavy baggage. If he tells Steve the truth now, he’ll just be heaping more on top. That would be two dates that went sideways here. This Peggy person was obviously very important to Steve. The way Steve’s been acting tonight, Tony might also be important. More important than he thought, anyway.

Baby steps, he decides. He once built a retriever-bot using nothing but chicken scratch and scooters from the seventies; he’ll get there.

He’s about to start talking, anything really, to melt Steve’s silence, when he realizes Steve is smiling at him. Not just any smile either; an uncomplicated grin that squinches his eyes up and makes him look happier than he has all week.

Tony pulls back. “What?”

Steve just shakes his head. He props his chin in his hand and looks Tony over.

“Seriously, what?”

“Thank you. I’m glad we came.”

Tony’s chest loosens. “That’s a relief.”

“A relief?”

“Wouldn’t be much of a date if you moped all the way through it.”

Steve straightens, looking hunted. “I’m not moping. I didn’t mean to mope, I’m—”

“No, no, no.” Tony waves his free hand to head it off. “That’s my point, you’re not. Not moping. I just…” These are not the right baby steps. “I want you to enjoy yourself.”

Steve pauses, then lifts their still linked hands between them. “I am.”

God, have they been holding hands this whole time? Yes, yes, they have. Tony even ate his taco one handed. He’s never been one to walk around hand in hand. His hands are kind of his livelihood, his real livelihood anyway. He doesn’t trust them with just anyone.

But Steve’s way beyond ‘just anyone’ by now. Steve is… Well, for starters, he has never pushed Tony’s faux profession in his face, never made him feel ‘less than’, and as a result, Tony was starting to forget that there was anything rotten in the state of Denmark.

Fuck, he’s starting to have to remind himself of his own lies. That cannot be a good development. Moreover, not being truthful with this guy is now making his bones ache. Tony doesn’t know what that’s all about, but he can take a hint.

Except.

One: if he succeeds in this, he could hurt Steve. It was never his intention to hurt Steve. The very idea floods shame up the back of his throat.

Two, what if Steve’s not the kind of guy to shrug this off? Having been played with or (if, god forbid, he sees it this way) made a fool of?

Three, he’s not ready for Steve to walk out on him.

The SS Cheese and Whine sailed the second you told him you charged by the hour, a voice that sounds disturbingly like Rhodey pipes in his ear. Tony shakes it off. Later. He’ll tell Steve later, once he… once he knows that Steve… “Shit.”

“Hm?” Steve turns toward him again, a piece of baklava halfway to his mouth. Tony reddens, glad of the darkness.

“Dripped honey on my shirt.”

Steve’s eyes flicker down, lingering on Tony’s open neckline. Damn it, Tony knows when people are lingering on his neckline, it’s really kind of obvious. “I see.”

“You’d better eat it,” he says, and tucks his last bite between Steve’s lips. Steve closes his mouth in surprise, catching on Tony’s fingertips.

Alright, Tony admits it, that was another poor decision on his part. He feels the quickest flicker of tongue, sees Steve’s eyes widen as he realizes what he’s just done. Instinct, then. Good instinct. Tony’s brand of instinct.

“Wow, it’s warm up here, don’t you think it’s warm?” Tony says, scooting away and flapping his collar with both hands. Only half of it is for effect. Steve chews slowly, sucking the last bit of honey from his lower lip, and Tony watches, and oh, yes. Oh, hell.

The singer switches songs and he blows out a hard breath. “And now she’s just goading me.”

“To do what?” Steve asks, clearly trying not to smile.

Tony stands, the nervous energy helping, brushes off his pants, and extends a hand to Steve. “Dance with me.”

Steve looks at the singer, crooning away quite obliviously, then at Tony. Then at Tony’s hand. Then at Tony again. He clears his throat, crumples the baklava bag into a ball and gets to his feet. Steve’s taller than him, especially standing on the upper riser like that, and Tony feels foolish with his arm stretched between them, like Romeo shaming the inconstant moon. But then Steve steps down to his level, his face a mask. “Here?”

Tony looks around. There are still people dancing. The lighting bathes their feet, but their upper bodies are lost in darkness. “Yes, here.”

Steve’s expression doesn’t change, but his hand shivers strangely in Tony’s grip. He moves toward an open spot, guiding Tony with him, and when he gets there, he stops and turns to face him. It’s awkward the way Steve’s hands flutter, never quite alighting on any part of Tony’s body. “Uh,” Steve starts, and wets his lips. “How do you want to do this?”

Tony looks him over and spots the source of his discomfort immediately. “Don’t worry, I’ll lead.”

The way Steve relaxes, just folds into him, is heady. It also makes Tony want to be very careful. He clasps Steve’s hand in his and pulls him gently in until it’s easy to sway together, simple to breathe in time. Steve’s stomach is warm and firm against his, his fingers a sure curl over Tony’s hand, his thumb resting against Tony’s wrist. The small of Steve’s back is a heated pocket beneath his jacket; Tony finds himself stroking his thumb up and down Steve’s spine as they move.

He's getting the feeling that dancing is a loaded activity for Steve, though he doesn’t know the details. And when he started this, he meant to distract, and it seemed bad form to bring up anything even more monumental. He just wanted Steve to have his dance. But here above the city with the music flowing around them, the murmurs of other couples and Steve so very close, the air is at last still. Uncomplicated. Tony feels like he could say anything, anything at all, and not have it go awry.

“Question.”

Steve hums and pulls back enough to look Tony in the eye. Tony takes the opportunity and moves their hands between them, clasped against their chests instead where he can feel Steve’s heart beating into the back of his hand. He’s sure Steve can feel his as well.

He’s also got a hold on Steve, which will make it harder for him to get away once Tony starts unloading.

“Well, a statement, too.” Tony sorts through how he wants to say it. If he just gets it in the right order, he knows Steve will listen. “Have you ever just wanted someone to see you? You, I mean. Not all the extras.”

The space between Steve’s brows pinches.

“Have you ever kept something from someone you... care for?” Tony goes on, not quite looking Steve in the eye, watching the way the wind teases his hair instead. “Or didn’t, you know, tell them the whole story because you wanted them to know you first? Not what you’ve done or, or are still doing. Just... you.”

He feels each word like a physical tremor. His instinct is to gesture. But that would mean letting go of Steve.

“Yes,” Steve says, and Tony looks up.

“Yes?”

Steve shrugs. He looks embarrassed, but only a little. “I didn’t always look like this.”

Tony shakes his head, watching Steve’s face like a hawk.

“I used to be sick. All the time. I was pretty scrawny. When I was out with Buck, no one looked twice at me unless he made them. That was alright, most of the time. When I wanted someone’s attention it was... harder. But then this—” He does gesture, just a little with their joined hands, and ends up sliding Tony’s wrist across his chest, and all Tony can feel is wonder that he’s holding Steve like this and it’s not about sex at all. “—happened, and suddenly everyone was looking. I wasn’t even there anymore, you know? They didn’t see me, they didn’t talk to me, they talked to…” Steve’s eyes close briefly. “Let’s just say it was almost a relief to be abroad. A really small relief.”

Tony pulls him closer. Steve’s palm is hot against his.

“So I get that,” Steve continues presently. “I can’t really hide what I am now. People just see it and decide who I am. And sometimes I don’t want those people looking past that, you know? If they’re not even going to try to see, well, me... then they don’t deserve to know me either.”

“I may not have been completely honest with you,” Tony admits into the space between them.

Steve doesn’t react at all physically, just keeps swaying to the music. “It’s okay if you weren’t.”

Tony takes a deep breath and lets it out. “There are things I haven’t told you. About me. And there are a lot of things that aren’t true. I just, there’s a whole lot of crap I don’t want you to have to touch. You shouldn’t have to. I saw a chance to reinvent myself, I guess, and I took it. But I think—no, I definitely went about it the wrong way. Because I do want you to know me, who I really am without all of, of that, but you can’t know it when I haven’t told you the whole—”

A flash goes off.

Tony steps away from Steve, automatic, and Steve comes with him for a second, their hands still linked. Tony looks around, spots the girl ducked furtively over her phone a few risers up, a scandalized look on her face as she messes with the screen. No doubt switching off the auto-flash.

The girl raises her camera again, her expression gone defiant. A deep pit opens up in Tony’s belly.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asks.

Damn her, and damn them all, Tony will not make Steve into their next headline. He reverses their grip and pulls Steve after him, up the risers one by one to the top. Another flash goes off, in front of him this time. Tony stops in surprise, and Steve bumps into him.

Then Tony’s pulling again, through the crowd, but Steve’s glowering now, eyeing the people around them, and Tony, with too much awareness. Tony leads them toward the nearest set of stairs off the High Line, the wind rushing up from the river. Steve keeps quiet until they reach the first landing, halfway down.

“Tony.”

“Yeah, not subjecting you to that special hell,” Tony grits out.

“Hey.” Steve pulls him up and turns him around with a hand in the crook of Tony’s elbow. He’s trying his damnedest to look Tony in the eye. “Listen, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“Yeah, there has—”

“I don’t care about them,” Steve overrides him. Tony stutters, wordless, and Steve continues. “I don’t care what they think. That’s the misunderstanding, right?” He gestures behind them up the stairs. “You think I can’t handle all of that?”

“‘All of that?’” Tony laughs, equal parts miserable and panicked. Steve doesn’t even know what ‘all of that’ is. “Listen, all of that? Is just the beginning. You don’t have any idea the kind of scavenging these people—”

“I can guess.” The look on Steve’s face says it all. “People know who you are.”

Fuck. Fuck, he thinks Tony is just that well-known in certain circles, the kind of escort that makes society page news. “You don’t even know what this is,” Tony protests with growing horror.

“I don’t care.” Steve takes Tony’s upper arms in a firm grip. “None of it matters. None of them matter. I want to be here with you.”

Tony’s mouth works but nothing comes out, and in that moment, Steve cradles his face. “You matter,” he says.

“Steve,” Tony tries, “I’m not—”

“You don’t get it,” Steve whispers, very final. He looks Tony right in the eye, and kisses him.

Warm. Wasn’t expecting that. Tony sucks in a breath, and Steve lifts his chin, following the hitch, and—

Honey trips across Tony’s tongue. He chases it, unthinking, his hands climbing into Steve’s hair. Soft, hot near his scalp. Steve’s arm braces round his middle, lifting him nearly from the ground, backing him the last foot into the pillar of the stairwell. Tony can’t help the sound he makes, can’t keep from clenching his fingers, fisting Steve’s hair. Steve kisses him deftly, like he already knows how Tony likes to be kissed, his tongue flickering over Tony’s teeth, studied touches to the inside of Tony’s mouth. It shoots straight down to his toes, searing everything in its path. Goosebumps seethe up Tony’s arms and back, push his breathing to panting, but Steve just gathers him closer with a shivery intent, need and hesitance all at once, and holds Tony to him like… like he…

Tony whimpers, seizes Steve’s face in both hands and deepens the kiss, just to see, and Steve, oh god, Steve meets his tongue thrust for thrust, plies his mouth mercilessly until all Tony can think is Steve, and Steve, and this. He might be saying it. He doesn’t know. He only knows Steve’s mouth, Steve’s body locked against him top to bottom, the cool concrete at his back, and the way—fuck, the way Steve is still asking with this kiss, not assuming, not taking at all. He’s begging, pleading with Tony to give him more with each sweep of his tongue. Tony’s throat clots up. He’s never cried while kissing anyone, he’s not sad, but Steve is everywhere, the clean scent of him filling Tony’s nostrils, the heat of him beneath Tony’s hands, the breadth of him keeping Tony upright, and he gives in, gives everything he can, doesn’t know if it’s enough, but wants it to be.

They break apart, just a little, and Steve nuzzles Tony’s mouth. No one has ever done that to him. In the many, many times he has been kissed, no one has ever treated his kisses like they were this precious, and this desired. Like Steve has been waiting and waiting for this chance to touch Tony just like this.

“You are the best thing to happen to me since I found Buck again,” Steve confesses, breathless over Tony’s lips, and Tony swears his heart goes utterly silent.

Tony cannot do this to him.

Tony’s in love with him.

With a moan, he pushes Steve back. “Don’t,” he croaks when Steve leans forward again. Steve stops, and Tony hangs his head and tries to breathe. Steve’s hands remain on his arms, holding him, supporting him, and Tony’s distantly glad of it. He might have keeled over otherwise. His heart is jumping, slamming erratically against his ribs, can’t be normal or healthy. He presses a hand to his chest, takes two deep breaths, and finally, the damnable words come.

“I’m not what you think I am.”

“What?” Steve says after a moment, looking perfectly blank, and perfectly distracted. His eyes rove over Tony’s face. His mouth is pink from kissing, his cologne perfect and tantalizing, and that irritates irrationally. Tony pushes him further away.

“You heard me.”

Steve frowns. “I did hear you. I just don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do.” Tony’s suddenly tired, of charades on both sides even if Steve doesn’t know he’s playing. He can’t catch his breath. “I put this image in your head. I need to yank it out again. I am not,” he reiterates, as flat as he can make it, “what you think I am.”

Steve’s jaw stiffens. “And what do I think you are?” he lobs back.

He sounds offended, but now that the dam has cracked, there’s nothing to stop the wave. Tony shakes his head. “Hooker with a heart of gold.”

Steve’s face colors. Embarrassment, shame, anger, whatever. Doesn’t matter. “I don’t think of you that way.”

“Yeah, you do.” Thing is, he’d rather have Steve thinking of him that way than anyone else thinking of what he really is, because Steve’s thought at least is pure. Open and accepting, and not anticipating anything in return. “Doesn’t matter. I’m not any of that.”

“What are you, then?” And that’s when Tony realizes he’s backing away, because Steve is following, one hand stretched between them, still lingering at Tony’s lapel. Tony can hear the desperation in Steve’s voice: anything to keep him from leaving.

“I’m a liar,” Tony says, and stops moving before he falls backward down the stairs. They are damned lucky no one has come down off the High Line and seen. Or maybe they have, maybe they already took their pictures. Tony feels sick. “I made things up, about myself, for your benefit. I took advantage of you. That’s what I am, Steve.”

“You’re saying all of it’s a lie.” There’s no inquiry there, just a statement, as emotionless as Steve’s expression. Tony doesn’t know what that expression is going to turn into, and then suddenly it achieves its full potential, and it’s not betrayal at all. It’s the fear of betrayal: underneath, there is still hope.

“Yes,” Tony says, hating himself. He turns around, half to leave, half because he just can’t look at what else Steve’s face is going to do.

“And how you feel about me, was that a lie, too?” Steve demands of his back.

Just like that, everything hitches inward, and Tony stumbles. He grits his teeth, pressing his palms to his eyes.

“Not that,” he manages, because he cannot lie to Steve about that.

“Then what exactly did you tell me that was the lie?”

That’s the funniest, most awful part. It’s like Tony can hear every single thing he ever said to Steve these past few days, parading past and belting his mistakes out into the open. He laughs, caught in it, and Steve’s frown deepens, but Tony can’t do anything about that because—

“I only told you one thing.” It’s hysterical, and terrible, and so insidiously true. “I told you how much I cost per hour. And that was a lie. All the rest...”

Tony hadn’t actually said anything else. He’d insinuated. Then Steve had asked questions, Tony had insinuated again, and Steve had taken the bait, following it in the only direction he could: straight forward. “Oh, god,” Tony mutters, covering his mouth, rubbing the taint of his words away. He doesn’t even know why this was a good idea, the whole charade, the false pretence. He could have had Steve, easy as breathing, but he had to make it the insurmountable obstacle.

That’s what he does. He complicates things, and then he complicates people, but he himself is not complicated. Anthony Edward Stark, he thinks with utter contempt, is all too easy to figure out.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not an escort!” Tony cries, knocking Steve’s arms away as they come around him again. He feels sullied by Steve’s attempt to get close. Steve’s not the dirty one. Steve sacrifices, and second guesses himself, and wears his heart on his battered leather sleeve like a shining star. Steve’s the best this world has to offer and Tony stamped on that light like a boy crushing insects. “I’m not expensive and I don’t get to pick and choose and offer freebies. I don’t make a living this way, and you deserve better than this, someone who won’t use you for his own amusement on a boring day.”

Steve’s jaw has gone stiff, his expression hovering on the bitter edge of something momentous. “Tony.”

“Stop.” He builds robots because he doesn’t know the first thing about being a human. He turns away.

“What, your name’s not Tony either?”

It’s the anger in Steve’s voice, finally, that does it. He spins around again, the burning behind his eyes getting the better of him. “It is,” he croaks.

“Why didn’t you lie about that?” Steve asks, his voice shaking.

“Because I wanted you to call me Tony,” he pleads. “I wanted you to call me by my name.”

That’s when he truly gets it: This is who he is. Photos and gossip and poor choices. Prostitute or not, public indignity is all Tony has to offer Steve.

“Tony—”

“No.” He jabs a finger at Steve, disgusted with everything, despising himself. His hand trembles. When he licks his lips, he can still taste Steve on them. “You don’t want to know the real me.” Steve’s words come back to him, uttered mere minutes before like a gift into the space between them. “And I don’t deserve to know you.”

For the first time since they met, Steve looks lost, and Tony’s heart, cracking since he first opened his mouth, gives up the ghost.

“Don’t come after me.”

He knows what his voice sounds like, barely a voice at all. This time when he walks away, Steve lets him go.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Steve goes after him, eventually. When he can think again. But by the time he gets down to street level, there are cars everywhere. Steve can’t tell one from the other, and none of them are a Rolls Royce anyway. None of the people walking away from him are Tony.

So he goes home.

He doesn’t really remember getting there, just that he’s suddenly topping the staircase in front of his shabby little apartment door. He doesn’t even recall if he put his bike back in the shed. He unlocks the door to find Bucky on the couch hugging a bowl of Cheez-Its and wearing the Manky Yankee. Steve gave the Yankees sweatshirt to him ages ago as a gag gift, and Bucky called his bluff by keeping it. It’s huge and butter-soft, the left arm is tied in its usual knot, and the TV’s on, canned yelling coming out of the speakers.

“Man, what are you doing back?” Bucky grouses, not looking away from the hockey game. He shovels a cheddary handful into his mouth and talks around it. “I am not leaving tonight, I am wearing the sweatshirt we don’t discuss. It does not leave this apartment, so I hope you’re just picking up more condoms or—”

And then he’s off the couch, bowl forgotten on the cushion behind him. He reaches out, and before his hand even touches Steve’s arm, Steve’s eyes are welling.

They stand in awkward silence, Bucky holding onto Steve and peering at him, Steve blinking at anything non-sentient in the room. “What happened,” Bucky grates at last.

Steve can see him imagining all kinds of things. He tries to clear his throat but can’t even do that, so he catches Bucky’s hand instead, just to keep him from flying off half-cocked. “I, um.” Bucky’s fingers cinch around his, and Steve looks up, meeting his eyes.

“I love him,” he gasps out, appalled at the fragility of his voice. Can’t manage the rest, but he can tell Bucky gets it: that everything, everything just went south on him.

“Aw, man,” Bucky murmurs, looking him over. He strokes the bangs from Steve’s forehead. “Can’t take you anywhere, can I?”

Steve tries to smile. He really does. Bucky smiles back, looking as sad as he did when he couldn’t figure out how to live all broken in this world.

And then Bucky takes him to the couch and holds him so he can cry a little.

**

“So. I am confused.” Bucky prods Steve’s arm with the Cheez-It bowl. “Is he a prostitute or not?”

“I don’t know,” Steve groans, his face buried in his arms. He’s tired and his head hurts and he just feels empty now. “He said he was. And then he said he wasn’t.”

“Did he have sex with you for money?”

“No.” Steve’s done being scandalized by blunt statements. Now he’s just watching some other guy have a crisis on the battered couch of his apartment. He can’t feel it anymore; his body pulled away a long time ago. That poor, poor bastard, Head Natasha commiserates. “He charged too much.”

“So you paid and he didn’t sleep with you.”

“No, I didn’t pay and he didn’t sleep with me.” Important to get all the facts.

Bucky, who had looked to be getting riled up, subsides. “Okay?”

“Gave me a freebie.” Steve wants to laugh. If he had any energy, he would. Some time tonight, or maybe tomorrow, this is all going to hit him again, and he’s going to fall apart. He can sense it just out of sight, waiting to drop down from above, all the memories and the sensory detail, and he’s terrified of it. Doesn’t think he can handle reliving everything that went so right.

That kiss.

“Okay, but,” Bucky says again, impatient, “what did you do, again?”

“We walked by the river,” Steve repeats, dutiful. “I bought him dinner and ice cream, which I spilled on him. So I let him use the shower and he kissed me on the cheek.”

“And didn’t sleep with you.”

“Nope.”

“Did he say he’d sleep with you?”

“He offered. I thought, he must do that all the time. I couldn’t do that to him, too.” Steve takes a detergent-scented breath. Bucky untied the sleeve a little while ago and made him put on the Manky Yankee, and now he doesn’t have the energy to be repulsed and he doesn’t want to take it off either. “This morning we went for espresso. Tonight it was tacos and baklava.”

“So he suckered you into paying for everything?” Bucky demands sharply.

“I paid the first night. He bought the espresso. And the tacos, and the baklava.”

“Wait.” Bucky flattens his hand in midair, as though to push down all the crazy. “Okay, so, wait.”

Steve waits. He thinks he might be going numb.

“So what you’re saying is,” Bucky says at last, slowly, “you walked around Brooklyn and stargazed on the roof and then he kissed your cheek and left. And then took you out for coffee.”

“Yep.”

“And tacos and baklava and the High Line.”

“He danced with me at the High Line,” Steve says, wistful. He can still feel Tony’s heat against him.

“Dirty dancing?” Bucky pounces. “Did he cop a feel?”

Oh, if only, Head Natasha sighs. “He was a perfect gentleman,” Steve says, quoting Tony’s words and hurting for it.

“So, okay, no, I need to clarify here. No money changed hands and he didn’t grope you, and he treated you with respect and he didn’t sleep with you.”

“I would have remembered if he’d slept with me.” Oh god, it’s coming, it’s shaking up there in the rafters. Any second it’s going to leap on him again and throttle him.

“You went out twice, and one time, you paid, and the next time he did.” Bucky is staring at him with this incredulous look on his face. “Steve, you idiot.”

“Stop it,” Steve mutters into his arms. “That’s not what happened.”

“Because you know what that sounds like?” Bucky shoves more Cheez-Its into his mouth. He’s eating again, which means he thinks he’s got the upper hand. “Sounds like you were dating.”

Steve just buries his face again and shakes his head.

“Screwy way to go about it. Prostitute, not a prostitute. I should definitely punch him.” Bucky sounds thoughtful around all the crackers.

“I kissed him,” Steve manages, more miserable with each passing second.

“When? Tonight?”

“I kissed him.” He can feel it as he says it, guttural, like an earthquake inside. “Like I’ve wanted to for days. And he kissed me back, he kissed me like… And then he said… the things he said.” He’s not making any sense. “And I tried to tell him that I don’t care what he does for a living. That’s not why I want him. Oh god, I still want him.” That’s never going away, he can’t ever see that going away. For the rest of his life, he’s going to remember this night with a bittersweet clot in his throat and not know whether to hate or love it.

“And that’s when he told you he wasn’t a hooker?”

“Well, no.” Steve straightens a little, rubbing his face. “He said he wasn’t an escort. He said he lied about what he charged, lied about it all. But not about how he felt about me. Or his name.” He can’t get the look on Tony’s face out of his mind, the crumbling edges and the profound sorrow. Steve knows that kind of sadness, he’s seen it in plenty of the boys who made it back from the war, and Tony’s was different, but at the bottom of it, it was really the same: injury. Extensive. “He wanted me to know him. But he said I shouldn’t want to.”

“That’s weird. But deep.”

“Jeez.” Steve rubs his face again, harder this time. “Maybe he’s just a normal kind of prostitute. Maybe he just wanted to impress me.”

But those suits. And that car. None of it jives. He can remember Tony’s words perfectly, razored into his mind, and yet he can’t make sense of them. All he can really hear anymore is the pain in Tony’s voice. And the finality. The finality is what hurts the worst.

He knows, just like he knew he was going to die overseas, that he’s never going to see Tony again. He wants to believe it’ll turn out like the other time did, but he doesn’t, not in his heart. Not this time. “I never got his full name.”

God, his head hurts.

“We could look for him,” Bucky says, sucking salt off his fingers.

“Stop,” Steve mumbles. “I’m not capable of hoping right now.”

“You should talk to Sam.”

That’s rich. And humiliating. “And tell him what? That I dated a prostitute for three days? That I fell head over heels for a guy who doesn’t even exist? He’ll set up weekly sessions.”

“Or maybe he’ll know something. I mean, the guy was at the veteran’s fair.”

“You just want to beat him up.”

“Well, yeah.” Bucky gestures at Steve, and then prods him again, this time with a Cheez-It.

“Shouldn’t be eating those.”

“You know what I’ve learned, Steve?” Bucky says, propping back against the couch’s arm. “Life’s too short. Shit happens, and you can stress out and second guess yourself and be careful about everything afterward. You can be healthy as hell, but never, ever be happy that way. In the end, you have to accept the things you love. Everything in moderation, sure. But if you crave the junk food, then sometimes you have to get the junk food. If you want the bad boy, sometimes you bed the bad boy. And you have to let yourself enjoy it, or you might as well not live.”

Steve eyes him for a long moment. Bucky stares back earnestly.

“That’s bullshit,” Steve finally states, and takes the bowl away. “Cheez-Its are terrible for you.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, gazing mournfully at the cache of orange crack in Steve’s hands.

“But you’re also right.”

“Yeah?”

Steve looks at his friend, just looks: at the softness around his mouth, at the light and the depth in his eyes, at all the things he brought back with him that should by all rights have been trampled to dust in the desert and the mountains a world away. Bucky smiles back at him, that childish little quirk he’s worn for years, and gives Steve’s knee a squeeze.

Sometimes, Steve is so grateful, so quietly floored that he still has this—still has Bucky—that there are no words.

The moment passes. He sighs. He’s not ready to deal in regrets. The wound is too fresh; he’s still in shock. The only thing in color is Tony. “I feel like crap.”

“I know,” Bucky says, sober. “Hey, get in bed. Sleep a little. Enough with this shit, it’ll still be here. You can deal with it later.”

Steve stumbles up from the couch with Bucky’s help, pulls aside the curtain and sits on his little trundle bed with Bucky’s help, drinks a glass of water because Bucky tells him to, and lies down with Bucky’s single hand guiding him by one shoulder. The last thing Steve recalls is the slide of blankets as Bucky pulls them over him.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Steve wakes to a knock at the front door. Despite the curtain, it’s bright in the room. Later than his usual, again. Before he can turn over, he hears Bucky’s shuffle-slide-jump as he avoids the couch on the way to the front door. In the kitchen, then. Steve wonders how long Bucky’s been sitting out there.

“Sergeant Barnes?” says an unfamiliar female voice once the door opens.

“You got him,” Bucky answers at a lower volume.

The visitor drops to match. “You’ve been requested by Stark Resilient to come for a refitting of your prosthesis today at nine o’clock AM.” Something changes hands; Steve hears the grinding of the mechanical arm and the rustling of paper. “We apologize for the suddenness of the summons; as per your contract, you may of course opt out of the trials at any time. If you still wish to participate, a new model for your current prototype has just finished preliminary testing and is ready for your use.”

“Oh,” Bucky says. “Yeah, still interested. Thanks.”

“Will you be requiring transportation?” She doesn’t sound like she comes from around here. Ireland, maybe. “We have a car waiting below.”

“Oh, no,” Bucky says quickly. “No, that’s... I have time. I’ll catch the—I’ll be there.”

“Very good, sir.” The voice remains bland and straightforward. Steve pushes upright in the cot, wincing at the creak of the springs and rubbing his face. He searches for his jeans.

“Where should I go?” Bucky questions.

“Stark Tower is located at—”

“Oh, I know where the tower is,” Bucky hastens to stop her. “I meant once I get inside.”

“Please report to the front desk and present your identification,” she says after a loaded pause, during which time Steve imagines Bucky’s embarrassed glower, both hands shoved into his pockets. He shakes his head. “You’ll be directed from there.”

Bucky thanks her and shuts the door as she leaves. Steve drags a shirt over his head and pulls aside the curtain. “I’ll take you.”

Bucky jumps, nearly dropping the manila envelope and all the papers he has pulled out of it. “Fuck,” he mutters, then looks Steve over. His face falls. “Steve, you look—”

Yeah, Steve can imagine how he looks. He waves Bucky off.

Bucky rallies, though, stepping closer. “Dude, it’s fine. There’re eggs and toast, and some of that maple smoked bacon. You don’t have to be at work today, take a load off, have breakfast. I can take the bus, it’s not that far.”

Sometimes, Steve thinks, he loves his friend. “And use up one of your passes? I’ll take you.”

“Steve—”

“I kind of want to get out of the house,” Steve says, louder, turning away to rifle aimlessly through the clothes they’ve been slinging onto the couch for the past couple of days.

After a second’s silence, Bucky says, “Okay.”

An hour later, his favorite bacon sitting heavy in his gut—and he knows they didn’t have maple smoked bacon in their fridge yesterday, Bucky must have been up and out a lot earlier than Steve realized—Steve maneuvers the bike through the traffic of Manhattan, Bucky hunched up close behind him. It’s warm and comfortable, the mix of his friend’s leather jacket and aftershave familiar. But it’s not the way Tony felt, or smelled. Steve’s heart gives a decided pang and he sighs, glad the wind is there to drown out the sound.

He has always liked the city in the morning. It’s why he runs when he does. But today, the bracing air is just cold, the constant honking of cars a needle to his nerves, the buzz and rumble of buses and taxis just obstacles to steer the bike around. Once when they’re waiting at an interminable stoplight behind a cab driver who won’t stop shouting out the window, Steve forgets himself and drops his head, blowing out a breath, and Bucky’s real hand comes up to pat him across the chest.

“Thanks for the ride,” Bucky says when he hops off at the foot of the massive tower overshadowing Grand Central. They both take a moment to peer up its facade, and Steve remembers a conversation about outrageous curves and the slippery sharpness of it all. STARK looms over them in blunt, slanted letters. Another pang; a few nights ago, Steve would have snorted. Today, the place just looks sleek and classy. Beautiful.

...and he really needs to quit viewing stuff through Tony’s eyes.

“Call me when you’re done,” he says. “I can come get you.”

“Might be a while.” Bucky turns his helmet over in his hands. The metal of the left hand clanks against the red star.

Steve shrugs. “Thought I’d go over to the orphanage for a little while. I’ll be around.”

“You could come with?” Bucky offers. He gestures at the glinting tower doors, where upright people in business suits flow in and out like rivers. “I bet they’d be okay with it. Last time the guy wasn’t too stodgy.”

Steve thinks about sitting for hours with a magazine, watching Bucky be poked and prodded. “Nah. I don’t know. Gotta be doing something today, I think.”

“Okay.” Bucky leans in and drags Steve close, clapping both arms around him in an unapologetic hug right in the middle of the sidewalk. Steve hugs him back, and if he clings a little bit, Buck’s sure as hell not going to call him on it.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

The idea was to get Barnes into Tony’s workshop, offer him a brand new amazing arm, and reveal himself as not quite the asshole he’s made himself out to be.

“Seriously, are you shitting me? Did the UN announce a worldwide shortage of poor life choices and ask you to singlehandedly make up the difference?”

Suffice it to say, Tony quickly realized that plan was not at all fair to Steve. “You are not in a good mood today, Grumpy Bear,” he mutters, futzing with an obstinate metal plate.

“Tony—”

“You’re right, okay?” he cuts him off. Frowns at the metal and says more quietly, “I can’t do that to Steve. I see the error of my ways.”

Rhodey relaxes a smidge, at least until Tony loses his cool and starts whacking the metal repeatedly with a small sledgehammer. Tony tosses the tool down and rubs his face. “God, I don’t think I’ve slept.”

“You haven’t. Look, it’s okay, Tones, you’ve had a rough day, you’re not operating on all cylinders. Just… take a break. Tony. Tony. That’s disturbing, give me that.”

Tony seizes the shirt he has tucked around his neck like a scarf, gripping it to within an inch of tearing it and fending off Rhodey’s snatching hands. “Stop it, I’m grieving.”

“You have his shirt wrapped around your neck.”

Tony bunches the shirt up in front of his nose and inhales, closing his eyes. Yes, he does. And it still smells like Steve. Steve’s home and Steve’s throat and Steve sleeping and Steve washing his clothing in a rattling, jumping, quarter-devouring machine down in a moldy old basement. “Leave me alone.”

Rhodey sighs and hugs him instead.

When they finish, a good amount of time later that Tony isn’t interested in computing, Tony wipes his face. To get the sweat and oil off, naturally; he’s been down here all night.

Rhodey doesn’t mention it. “So tell me about this new model.”

“Calibrated specifically to his range of motion.” Tony’s voice comes out hoarse. He clears his throat. “Neuro-connectors at the joint, fully articulating digits, revamped pneumatic operating system and internal gel self-lubrication for overall noise reduction. I even put some sensory pads on the fingertips so maybe he can feel stuff again. But that might just be a pipe dream.”

“For now,” Rhodey says.

“For now.” He’s exploding with ideas, ways to make Barnes’ prosthesis the most real-to-life he can get, but also the strongest, the most reliable, the most easily maneuverable, the most aesthetically pleasing, the most capable of delicacy, the most… Well, the most, basically. They were all coming out fine until five-twenty-seven AM, when his brain performed an annoying shuffle-slide and shut down on him. He turned what he had over to Applications an hour later to work out the kinks and has been messing around with harebrained virtual product redesigns ever since.

But beneath it all is this forlorn and barren pit that continually sucks the joy out of each radical idea even as he has it: everything comes back to Steve. Everything is for Steve, for what he did to Steve. He has this maddening sense that if he keeps creating, keeps making things better, he’ll become worthy of Steve again. Just one more thing, one more piece of equipment that will make him better, too, that will dissolve all doubt.

At the same time, he knows how futile it is. And now Barnes is across the hall, getting tinkered with. Tony has no idea what he’s still doing here.

“Let’s get out of here,” Rhodey says, taking the sledgehammer from Tony’s hand when he picks it up again. “You’re going to go crazy waiting for Jarvis to report back.”

“I can’t leave,” Tony complains. “He might have questions. Code he can’t fix.”

Rhodey snorts. “There’s nothing that guy can’t fix.”

It’s true. When Jarvis had his nervous breakdown late last year, Tony just about had a breakdown of his own. Jarvis was the first employee Tony had personally hired, the guy who had cleaned his alcoholic ass up nine out of every ten boozefests (off the clock), and one of the very few friends he has never once regretted making. So the guy was a little odd these days. So what? If Stark Resilient’s top designer shows up one day covered in plum face paint and referring to himself as ‘The Vision’, Tony’s not raining on that parade. Shit happens. Plus, the guy’s coding is even more impeccable post-crazy.

“We could get pizza,” Rhodey continues. “And there’s the fair you helped set up, you know the kids would love to show you their finished projects. Or we could go try that banh mi hole in the wall you were eyeing last week.”

“Steve would have liked banh mi,” Tony observes wistfully.

“Alright,” Rhodey says loudly, “alright, stop it. Stop that right now, you’re pathetic.”

Uh, Tony knows that. He gets how utterly ridiculous he is. He stares at Rhodey, all kinds of hurt, but Rhodey just rolls his eyes.

“Just cut it out. This pining is not you, Tony Stark. You go out and get what and who you want, you do not sniffle after them down in the basement!”

“First of all, it’s not a basement, it’s a workshop—”

“Glorified basement.”

“It’s not even underground!”

“You’re afraid,” Rhodey declares, pointing, and Tony nods frantically.

“Yes. I’m afraid, alright? I’m terrified!” He gives up on the metal plates for good and shoots his hands out to take in the entire room. “I messed up everything, the best thing that has happened to me in ages, and for what? I don’t even know! A cheap thrill? That man doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body, but I, I use that goodness for my own entertainment. That’s what I do, what I’ve always done, Rhodey.”

“That is not true and you know it.”

“Quiet, I’m on a roll here,” Tony snaps. “Just what is it you think I can do to fix this? I lied to his face, for days.”

“You can go find him and get him to take you back.”

“I can’t just tell him to take me back, Rhodey, I treated him like a joke!”

“Then you grovel at his feet,” Rhodey fires back. “You do whatever it takes to convince him you’re sorry, that it’s not a joke and hasn’t been a joke for days and you made a mistake, but mostly that you don’t want to live without him!”

The silence after that rings. Tony stares at Rhodey, and Rhodey stares back.

“That is,” Rhodey says awkwardly, after too long, “if that’s how you—”

“Yes.” At first Tony thinks he’s just trying to quell the weirdness. But the rush of relief at that single word hits straight to his belly, fills his chest, probably spills out his ears onto the floor.

He doesn’t want to live without Steve. He’s only known him for three days and he doesn’t know why the hole he must have had inside his chest before they met never caught his attention, because it must have been fucking huge. At the same time, he’s never really let himself consider the implications of his complete foul up until now. He has lost Steve. He walked away from him. Of his own free will. And he does know he’s done Steve wrong, he does know he deserves exactly what he’s wrought and what he doesn’t deserve is Steve himself, but the understanding is so ugly and small and sad inside him, a little broken thing huddled in the corner searching for light that isn’t ever coming.

“Oh, shit.” Tony bends his head, then his body, braces against his knees and is sure he’s going to go down until Rhodey catches him, a quick grab around his waist. “Rhodey. Rhodey.”

“I know.”

“Rhodey…”

“I know, man,” Rhodey sighs and pats him comfortingly on the hip. It’s a weird place. From this angle, it’s probably the only spot Rhodey can reach without dropping him.

“I need to see him.” It doesn’t matter that he can’t, that he screwed up so royally his other screw-ups are cooing in sympathy. It doesn’t matter that he’s likely the last person Steve wants to lay eyes on. It’s just the truth. “Rhodey, I ruined this, can I un-ruin it?”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s anything you can’t do,” Rhodey says, bland. But Tony must be flailing or hyperventilating or doing something else that’s causing headaches, because Rhodey grips him tighter. “But I’ll help you. Of course.”

He can’t. He can’t. Can he? Tony squints at the ground. There’s no way Steve will forgive him. Someone worming into his life on a rolling flood of lies, just to get him to go out; Tony wouldn’t forgive himself.

But then, ‘Tony Stark’ is about as far from ‘Steve Rogers’ as it’s possible to be.

All Tony really knows is that he’ll never forgive himself if he doesn’t try.

“Okay,” he exhales, shaky. “Let’s do this.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Rhodey crows, letting go of Tony to clap his hands. He pauses. “What exactly are we doing, though?”

“I have no idea.” Tony’s moving, sliding his arms into his suit jacket (the same one he wore while kissing Steve, while abandoning Steve), flattening his hair, scrambling for his socks. Lunch. He’ll buy Steve lunch, and possibly a supermarket chain, Steve’s apartment doesn’t look like it ever held more than a grocery bag full of food at a time, and Tony’s really good at buying things. Rhodey will slam that idea a second after he voices it, but maybe he’ll get all the way into Steve’s kitchen before Rhodey gets any traction, and then if Steve tosses him out on his ass, at least he’ll keep the food because Steve doesn’t waste anything, Tony knows that in his gut, like he knows his own name.

“Oh, good.” Rhodey wrestles the socks out of his hands, digs up a matching pair from under the rolling tool bench instead, braces Tony while he shoves shoes onto his feet, and pushes him through the door into the hallway. “Where to, fearless leader?”

Tony’s not fearless. Tony’s shaking. “I need coffee.”

“That’s the last thing you need.” But Rhodey follows gamely, adding much needed respectability to this little circus. The express elevator at the end of the hall is all the way down on 49, and Tony is just considering taking fifty-two floors of stairs in the interest of efficiency when the door to the lab directly across from his opens and James Buchanan Barnes steps out, calling a thanks to the person within, his bright and shiny new arm attached flawlessly at his shoulder.

“You,” Barnes says as soon as he faces forward, his nose scrunching up. His eyes widen and he tracks from Tony to Rhodey, down to his Stark Resilient-plated arm and the stack of waivers he just signed, the ones with Tony’s full name and occupation all over them.

It takes him exactly two seconds to put it all together.

Barnes’ brand new metal hand crushes the packet into a ball. “You,” he hisses.

“Shit,” Tony says, and lunges for the opening elevator.

“Right?” Rhodey agrees, lunging after him.

“Security,” The Vision calls through the open door of the lab, not bothering to look up from his console.

“Hey!” Barnes yells as guards swamp him out of nowhere. “Hey, wait!”

The fastest Stark Resilient’s guards have ever ejected someone from the building is two minutes, forty-six seconds, and that’s using the express elevator Tony’s in right now, and letting the person retrieve the personal items they dropped off at the front desk on their way in. Given Barnes’ fitness stats and dedication to Steve’s welfare, Tony estimates a four minute head start once he hits the street.

**
**
**

Because Harley Keener’s potato-fry gun is a rousing success, the orphanage is a ghost town, and Steve is now parked at the squat arts and crafts table doodling by himself.

He’d completely forgotten about the science fair. The nuns took most of the kids off to the Intrepid this morning, except for the littlest ones, who just ate lunch and are down for their naps. There’s nothing for Steve to do but draw, and wallow.

“Should have stayed with Bucky,” he mutters to the newest image of Tony. He’s been painstakingly committing them to paper for an hour and a half. Smiles. Hands. Suits and beards and sharp brown eyes. He even did one of Tony’s mouth, kiss-bitten and a little bit open, eyes glazing as he looked up at Steve. It’s the last good moment he can remember, and now it’s folded up and jammed in his pocket, like most of the things in his life that he’s trying to forget.

Maybe Tony’s at the fair right now, Steve thinks glumly. Or maybe he’s out with someone else, someone who is not Steve, who is pushy and unobservant and causes Tony’s defibrillator to malfunction and only wants him because of how he looks. Except Tony’s not a prostitute. Probably. Except except, that doesn’t mean Tony’s not with someone else anyway. Someone who is not Steve.

Steve’s stomach hurts.

“You should give that to him.”

He jumps, and turns to find Sister Agatha crouched beside him, a smile on her face. She’s a young nun, the one who always plays tag and chases wayward baseballs, who gets down to the little ones’ level whenever she speaks to them.

“What? To whom?”

Sister Agatha nods at his drawing. “That. To its subject. It’s very good.”

Oh. Steve smiles sadly at his drawing, now a fully shaded pencil sketch of Tony’s profile in the twilight sun, from the first day they met. If Sister Agatha noticed, then it must be pretty obvious how attached he is. “It’s just a drawing.”

She leans in, smoothing the sheet and turning it to see it better. “He’d love it. It looks just like him.”

It takes Steve a second. Way too long, and then his lungs just squeeze and he’s staring at Sister Agatha, shocked and confused as hell. “Just like him?”

“Yes.” She taps the corner. “You got his eyes—well, his eye—exactly right.”

Steve drops his pencil and pushes away from the table, scooting around on his knees to face her. “You know him?”

Sister Agatha looks puzzled. “Sure. That’s Tony Stark.”

Tony Stark? He’d never got Tony’s last name, but all together like this, it sounds vaguely familiar. Like he’s heard it before. Steve forgets himself completely, seizing her hands. “How, how do you know him?”

Sister Agatha’s eyes skip down to where her hands are clutched in his, but she doesn’t pull away. “He funded the orphanage for years. Kept it from going under, through the Maria Stark Foundation. That’s in honor of his mother. Not this year; we were doing alright this year, what with the proceeds from daycare. The Mother Superior asked him to help those who had more need.” She searches Steve’s face. “But he comes around once a quarter to see how we’re doing. Always says there’s plenty of money, should we change our minds.”

“Plenty of money,” Steve repeats, dazed. Sister Agatha smiles again, nodding. She still looks puzzled.

“Well, he is very rich, Steve.”

Stark. Tony—Anthony Stark. Oh, hell. Oh, hell, Stark Resilient and Stark Innovations and Stark International, Steve had their weapons at his back for the first year he was in Iraq, until the root company stopped making them, until its owner had a near fatal accident and a crisis of conscience and rebuilt the company from the ground up—Tony rebuilt the company from the ground up, Tony had a crisis of conscience.

Tony had a near fatal accident.

“His heart!” Steve cries, and Sister Agatha’s eyebrows leap. She nods, hesitant.

“What about his heart?”

And then Bucky tumbles through the door, yelling at the top of his lungs about fake escort billionaires who make robotic arms for fun, and Steve...

Well, Steve kisses a nun.

Chapter Text

“Oh god.” Steve darts around a lamppost, barely missing a man coming around the corner with a running stroller. “Oh jeez, Buck, I kissed her.”

Bucky takes the corner two feet behind him, bouncing off the lamppost as he goes. “Kissed who?”

“I kissed a nun!” His heart is leaping against his ribs, he feels more alive than he has in weeks. He doesn’t know why he’s stuck on this when Tony, Tony Stark, the man he thought he’d lost for good, is suddenly right in the palm of his hand again. Shit, where did he park his bike?

Bucky snorts, rolling his eyes and giving Steve a shove with his shiny new arm. “Yeah, on the forehead. Because you’re Steve Rogers. Can’t even offend someone right.”

“Oh jeez, she’s offended.” He skids to a stop, appalled, knowing he’s as red as a firehouse, he can feel the heat in his cheeks. “Of course she’s offended, I didn’t even ask, Buck, I just—is she angry, do you think she’s angry?”

Bucky grabs his arm, hauling him out of the way of the delivery truck rumbling up the street like an earthquake. He spins Steve to face him and gives him a shake. “She was laughing, man. She kissed you back, on the forehead, and patted your face, Steve, Steve-o, were you actually even there?”

He doesn’t know. He’s fifty feet aloft, so high the atmosphere is getting thin, and he’s shaking and he still has the picture he drew crushed in his hand and he can’t—Steve spots his bike at last and dashes for it, nearly knocking it over as he jumps astride it. Bucky scrambles on behind him, forcing a helmet onto Steve’s head.

“Whoa, there, safety first, Dudley Do-Right. Where are we going?”

“Stark Tower.” This time, one kick is all he needs: the bike roars to life, Bucky’s arms snap around him in a death clutch, and they’re flying.

In minutes, mere minutes, he’ll see Tony again, and this morning he got so close and didn’t even know it! Should have gone with Bucky, should have listened to his friend, but now it’s okay, now he’s going to—

“Steve, man, slow down, he’s not at the tower!”

Steve blinks. “He’s not?” he calls back over his shoulder, suddenly at loose ends, unsure even of what street they’re on.

“Not if he knows what’s good for him,” Bucky yells back over the rumble of the bike. “When he saw me, he lit out of there like I set him on fire.”

“Did you actually see him leave?”

“No, but—”

“Then he could still be there.” The unraveled ends thread neatly back into place. Right, right, left, another left, straight, right, across the bridge. Steve maps his route, the city spooling out before him just like the rocky terrain used to. It’s not that far, Bucky ran all the way here after all.

“Steve. Steve, pull over.”

Not happening. Tony’s a billionaire. Tony could have anyone, anyone at all. Tony was with him because he wanted to be. In some deep corner, Steve knows he should be mad at being lied to, but all he feels is elation.

Bucky’s still talking, yelling really, and yanking on his shirt. “—express elevator, only goes from the first floor to the lab floor, they sent me up it when I got there. He’s gone, Steve, he left. Probably knew I’d go straight to you, are you listening to me?”

“I…” He is. Really. No, he actually is, because he slows the bike, unfocused again and abruptly lost in a massive city, looking for a single person who he doesn’t really know. There’s an awful lot of honking, shit, is he going the wrong direction down a one-way?

Steve likes Coney Island alright, but he is really starting to hate this particular brand of roller coaster.

“Rogers, pull over!” There’s a fierce tone to Bucky’s voice, an urgency Steve has followed without question ever since their first mission. He may be the strategist, but Buck’s always been the logician, snagging all the erroneous information and puzzling it into shape so that Steve could utilize it. Steve acts on instinct, taking the first break in traffic and pulling to the curb, expecting a dressing down, anger, something. But Bucky’s off the bike before he even comes to a stop, weaving through the crowd of pedestrians toward a newsstand. Steve follows, bewildered.

When he gets there, the proprietor, a balding guy with a comb-over, points at him with a sleazy grin and says, “Heeeeeeey.”

Bucky snatches the newspaper out of the guy’s hand. “You want to go get a coffee?” he snarls.

The proprietor beats a hasty retreat, his buggy eyes on Bucky’s metal arm. Bucky glares him beadily all the way to the coffee cart on the corner, then spreads the paper on the counter. He jabs a finger right into the middle of the front page. Steve looks down and sees… himself.

And Tony. “Oh. Tony,” he whispers, dragging the paper out of Bucky’s reach. The lighting’s bad, but there they are, faces inches apart, staring into each other’s eyes like there’s no one else in the world.

“Yep,” Bucky sighs, slapping both hands onto the counter and turning a one-eighty. He leans against the newsstand with a heavy sigh and squints one eye at Steve. There’s a tolerant smirk on his face. “That’s why he gets to live.”

“What?” Steve can’t tear his eyes from Tony’s face. Chin tilted up, angling in. Lips parted; he was talking, trying to tell Steve everything about him, and Steve was just drinking in his good fortune like an ass, he wasn’t listening.

Bucky rubs his face, full palmed. “Shit, it’s a picture, look at you.”

He’s looking. No wonder the paper salesman recognized him.

“‘Notorious billionaire playboy was seen canoodling with mysterious Ken doll,’” Bucky reads over his shoulder, sniffing. “Well, I always knew you were a Ken doll. ‘Should self-declared child advocate Tony Stark be allowed such influence over our youth while displaying such loose morals?’ Let’s see, Sunday on New York’s High Line... Stark progeny and pariah seen up close and personal by several citizens…and now there’s a bunch of brown nosing—oh, ‘scandalous embrace with a younger man’. That’s you, Steve.”

“Uh huh,” Steve mumbles. Even caught like this, the earnestness in Tony’s face is plain, and the fear, the need, is so clear in his eyes. Steve doesn’t remember that. Steve only remembers being happy. Steve only remembers Tony.

“Huh, now this, I remember: ‘Former weapons magnate Tony Stark rebuilt his father’s empire after surviving a near fatal accident that left him with heart damage. By day Mr. Stark seeks to appear upstanding to his fawning public’… by night, oh, listen to this, ‘by night he surrounds himself with sexual deviants and original sin.’ Hey, now, this is not objective journalism.”

Their fingers are linked, Steve’s hand is between their chests, the back of it pressing against Tony’s heart. His heart.

“He almost died,” Steve blurts out. “His heart, he almost—” He has to go, has to find Tony, Tony almost died.

“Steve. Steve.” Bucky catches him and blocks him again when he tries to sidestep. “Where are you going?”

“His heart, Buck!”

“Was just fine when he was pretending to be a hooker!” Bucky drags him to a halt with nary a blink, despite the people who are now staring at them. Steve takes a deep breath. “You remember that, right?” Bucky asks, quietly this time. “That he lied to you?”

He remembers. He just also remembers the brittle zeal in Tony’s eyes, and the way it grew stronger and clearer the longer the night went on. The way everything about him warmed with every word Steve spoke. Steve looks at his friend. “Buck,” he whispers, helpless.

Bucky sighs. “Yeah, okay. Okay.” He pats Steve’s arm, then rubs it. “Just wanted to throw that out there.”

He picks up the paper again, clearing his throat and glaring at the good people of New York City until they scuttle away. “Let’s see… Dancing in plain sight, huh? Gutsy; I’ve seen the way you dance.”

Steve elbows him in the side.

“‘Public officials question whether a playboy and former weapons magnate should be hailed as a role model for the city’s youth.’ See, now that one might have won them a point in debate class. Except now it’s all about how Stark had the nerve to get handsy with a man the night before some children’s fair.”

The oxygen rushes right out of Steve’s lungs. He lets go of the paper in a fog. “That’s it,” he breathes.

“What’s it?” Bucky frowns at the article, thumbing to the next page. “Shit, they really need to fire this asshole, he misspelled libertine—hey!” he finishes as Steve snatches the paper out of his hands.

Steve scans the front page, then the next, crushing the paper in his rush to turn the pages. “Fair, science and education, scholarship—there!” He thumps the paper onto counter, forefinger planted squarely in the center of the page, then shoves back from the newsstand and takes off running. Bucky slaps down a bill, snatches up the paper, and hares after him.

“What? Steve, what?”

All is sunlight and summer-sweet again, and New York City is a shining yellow brick road at his feet. “I know exactly where he’s going!”

**
**
**

“Steve,” Tony shouts, hammering on the apartment’s shabby door. “Steve, come on, open up!”

“Yep,” Happy offers from his post on the landing where he leans. “Definitely creepy.”

Tony doesn’t care. He has no idea where Barnes is, and he has to get to Steve first. He has just equipped Steve’s best friend with the means to rip his head off, and not metaphorically either. He really has no other option. “Steve,” he pleads, out of breath and wading waist deep through a rising tide of dejection. “Please just let me explain. I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. If you’re… Look, if it’s because you hate me, that’s, well, I get it. But if you’re not opening the door because Barnes—because Bucky got here first, just… just hear me out. Do whatever you want after that, but listen to me for two minutes. I’m begging you.”

“Steve, I’m begging you,” Rhodey calls, slightly behind Tony and sounding pained. “Have mercy on a fellow soldier.”

“They’re not home.”

Tony spins around to find a tiny old lady standing on the landing one floor down, peering up the stairwell with big brown eyes. “When did they leave?”

She shrugs. “No idea.”

“Then how do you know they’re not there?”

She looks affronted now, and comes up the stairs waving her wire-frame glasses at him like a flyswatter. “Steven Rogers and James Barnes are good, polite boys. If they’re not answering, they’re not home. They would never leave a guest out on the stoop!”

“They might leave me out on the stoop,” Tony mutters, collapsing back against the wall with a sigh.

“Maybe he’s at work, boss,” Happy offers, assisting Steve’s neighbor up the last few steps.

“No, it’s his day off,” Tony mumbles to the railing. “Mondays are the only day he doesn’t work. Doesn’t even run on Mondays. He makes French toast out of the ends of the week’s bread loaf and picks up the papers for everyone in his building before the street cleaner runs over them.”

“That is some stalker-level trivia, Tones,” Rhodey sighs.

But Steve’s elderly neighbor is nodding at him. “You must be the one he got all gussied up for the other night.”

“Gussied up?” Tony blinks at her. “Gussied up, that is just—What am I saying, of course Steve lives in this building.”

She smiles, angling up (and up) to look him in the eye. She really is tiny. “On his day off, he’ll be at the orphanage.”

Well, naturally, the orphanage. Tony is an idiot. He sucks in a quick breath and takes her by both arms. “Don’t move. I’m finding Steve, then I’m coming back here with an antiquarian and I’m going to appraise the hell out of every tchotchke you own.”

“I won’t sell,” she promises, patting his arm.

He grips her as tightly as he dares, then barrels down the stairs, Rhodey and Happy following in his wake like put upon ducklings.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

“He’s not here,” Steve breathes, his heart plunging into his boots. He turns around again one more time, but he’s already been front to back of this fair, and not only hasn’t he seen Tony, no one has been able to tell him where Tony might be. Now they’re almost to the entrance again, a whole bunch of kids, teens, parents, and balloons bobbing past, and he has struck out. He turns again, searching the crowd, certain that he’s missed someone and if he just looks hard enough—

A sizable projectile whizzes by and Bucky dives for the ground, metal arm around his head. “Potato away!” someone yells, followed by a lot of giggling and snorting.

“Harley Mason Keener!”

“Uh oh,” Harley mutters amidst a group of equally nervous children.

Steve looks up from helping Bucky to his feet to see Harley’s mother stalking through the gap between tables, Sasha hauled up sack-style under one arm. She points at her son. “You could have knocked someone’s head off! Give me that gun right now!”

“Shit.” Bucky wipes his flesh and blood hand across his face, then pats Steve’s arm. “I’m okay.”

Steve lets him go and spins around yet again, uselessly. “He’s not here, Buck. He’s not anywhere.” He’d been so sure. Tony loved these kids. Even not knowing who Tony really was, Steve had only had to talk to the guy to see that.

He’d never have missed this show. Steve has no idea where he could be.

“Look, everyone seems to agree that he set the thing up,” Bucky says. “Someone here has to know where he is. Hey, you!”

He snags a red and blue blur as it dashes past. Seriously, a blur; Steve takes a full second to comprehend that Bucky has snared an actual person, and then another second trying to find a nice way to both apologize for Bucky’s behavior and point out the faux pas to Bucky himself.

“You look official,” Bucky declares. “You know where Tony Stark is?”

The person, hanging in Bucky’s grip by his hoodie collar and looking anything but official, gapes first at Bucky, then at Steve. His eyes grow even larger. “Oh, hey. I know you, hey, don’t actually bench press me.”

Steve sighs, steps forward, and physically removes the kid from Bucky’s grasp. “Buck,” he warns, straightening the kid out. It’s the one who designed the garlic clove tent, Pete or something. “I’m so sorry. My friend—”

“Has an awesome arm!” the kid blurts now that he’s in a position to see it, immediately forgetting to be offended and grappling up and down the thickest part of Bucky’s prosthesis. “Wow, this is something else, this is—oh, neuro-connectors and pneumatic joints, hey, look at your fingers, the thumb fully articulates! Is this Stark Tech? This is totally Stark Tech, why have I never seen it before?”

“Fresh off the assembly line this morning,” Bucky declares proudly. A little knot in Steve’s chest gives way. Half his anxiety here had been whether Bucky would pummel Tony when they finally found him. Given Bucky’s open excitement about the arm, Steve’s thinking he might get a few seconds’ worth of hesitation to muscle in between them when the time comes.

He’s a little afraid that once he gets hold of Tony, he won’t be letting go. But that’s if he ever finds Tony in the first place.

“Oh, yeah, definitely supposed to be here,” Pete is saying. He scratches his head. “Seven this morning, for last minute emergencies. Luckily there were no emergencies because he never showed. It’s not really like him but he’s a busy guy.”

Pete shrugs, smiling, but Steve can see the disappointment. Hell, it’s a fleck of the ache building in his own chest.

“How do I find him?” Steve asks no one. The city he calls home has never felt so big. And Tony, Tony has money, more than Steve could earn in ten lifetimes. He’s pretty sure that if Tony wanted to, he could make it so he’d never be found.

“I texted him earlier,” Pete says, bent over his phone now. “I got a weird audio reply. Think it was in his pocket. There were horns honking. But maybe not, because this one time he sent me an audio of all the corrosive elements in the periodic table. That was after I asked if I should shine my shoes before lab time. I dunno, you go to Stark Tower for the first time, you think maybe you want shiny shoes. He was kind of in a tank top the whole time though, and these crazy goggles. I just wear my tennis shoes now.”

“You have his number?” Steve has to stop himself from grabbing the phone out of Pete’s hand. Not your property, he reminds himself, fidgeting nearly out of his skin. He hooks Bucky’s arm when he notices the beady way Bucky is also eyeing said cell phone.

“Yeah. I shouldn’t just text him, right? Like, send him emoticons? I sent a tongue sticky-outty face yesterday without thinking about it. My aunt says go ahead but he’s Tony Stark. It’s weird, it’s like high-fiving Tesla. Jay, distance to Tony.”

Before Steve can ask who Jay is, a cultured male voice pops up from the end of the kid’s phone. “Would that be empirical or philosophical distance?”

“Ha ha. You’re so funny, Jay,” the kid says with, as far as Steve can tell, real sincerity. “Where’s he at?”

“Calculating,” the voice offers.

“Jay?” Steve asks quietly, afraid to trigger the aural activation.

“Like the letter,” Pete says, still messing with his phone. “I don’t know why J, it’s the StarkTech operating system though. He’s cheeky.”

“The operating system or Stark?” Bucky mutters under his breath.

“Uh-huh,” Pete answers.

Bucky scowls. Then his face screws into puzzlement. “I swear I've heard that voice before.”

“Oh,” Pete declares, then grins widely, waving his phone in Steve’s face. “Almost here.”

“What?” Steve manages, and then there’s a screech behind him on the street and the Rolls Royce opens up, sending Happy spilling from the driver’s side and a decorated United States Air Force lieutenant colonel stumbling out the back.

And right behind him, Tony.

Tony, who is still wearing the suit Steve last saw him in, whose tie is askew and fluttering, whose hair is an unholy mess. Tony, whose face is the picture of panic and abject misery. The lieutenant colonel turns around and catches Tony with one arm as he trips up and over the curb. Steve’s lungs cinch shut. His heart does a ferocious jig across his ribs, and then Tony looks up and sees him, and time stands still.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Barnes gets there first.

“You’d better explain yourself,” he growls.

But Rhodey cuts between them, stopping Barnes with a hand against his sternum. “He’s going to explain.”

Barnes raises an eyebrow and Rhodey coughs, glancing at Tony from the corner of his eye. “He’s going to try to explain,” he amends. “But. You are going to let him, because this—” His gesture takes in Tony, Steve, Barnes, himself, and probably the entire state of New York. “—is so ludicrous that I cannot be part of it for another minute. I have driven through five boroughs in the last hour, talked two police officers out of a three hundred dollar parking fine each, and been party to the verbal harassment of a nun. I kid you not, I will call in an airstrike if this goes any further.”

They all stare at him. Barnes blinks. “Well, we wouldn’t want that.”

“No,” Rhodey grinds out. “We would not.”

There is totally a posturing thing happening here, right in front of Tony’s nose. Barnes sizes Rhodey up, medals to insignia, because of course Rhodey came fully decked out, he was not expecting to spend his entire morning in the lab. He was expecting to go to this very fair with Tony and sort of halfheartedly represent a potential government contract to these kids. Mostly by standing around looking interesting and non-combative; he’s told Tony again and again that he hates trying to collect soldiers from baby ranks, even genius ones.

Yet you keep volunteering, Tony had challenged.

Yep, Rhodey had answered, eyes innocently heavenward. Only one there offering air force scholarships. No one but me allowed to do it.

You sly dog.

Rhodey shrugs. Hey, if they say, ‘Lieutenant Colonel, I am very interested in that science-based Air Force scholarship you’re handing out to kids aged fifteen to eighteen today that you have given no indication you are offering,’ I am fully prepared to answer any questions they have.

Tony loves this man.

But Barnes is no happy-go-lucky puppy. He has gone into the meat grinder and come out the other side, one fewer limb and a freakishly impervious steel core. Tony knows; he remembers selecting Barnes from the initial applicants by virtue of a thick dossier compiled from background checks, military history searches, and a recommendation from one Sam Wilson, retired Air Force paratrooper. Exemplary service record. Amputee. Heavily decorated. Would have been heavier if not for the stint as a POW in one of the toughest compounds the US government is aware of. Tony picked this guy because he could see straight up that James Buchanan Barnes would be able to handle pain both physical and mental, and still keep hold of his sense of self enough to keep pushing forward. Untested bodily machinery is not for everyone, after all.

Tony’s wondering how that sense of self is going to manifest in the case of a jilted bestie.

Barnes draws a deep breath. “You need to explain this to my satisfaction,” he says to Tony in a much calmer manner than before. He opens his mouth to go on, but—

“I think he needs to explain it to my satisfaction,” Steve says from behind Barnes, and everyone turns.

Steve’s expression is passive. Hard to read. Or look away from. He’s standing there with his hands in his pockets, for all the world like he’s not asking Tony the most incendiary question he has faced this year.

Khakis. Steve’s wearing khakis. Blue and white checked shirt. Bomber jacket. His hair is ruffling, his eyes are oddly bright, and he’s just beautiful, in a sad, brittle kind of way. Because he wants an explanation and Tony doesn’t have him. Tony might still lose him, for good.

Oh god, he needs to focus. His focus is the stuff of legends, if he can just direct it narrowly enough. But it’s really hard when the greater part of him wants nothing more than to throw himself into Steve’s arms and glom onto him before he has the chance to get away.

Barnes looks like he might protest, but Steve gives him one look, one look that changes his entire demeanor, and Tony sucks in a breath. Suddenly he doesn’t need to verify who the commander was in that army unit. Steve’s done it for him. Barnes hesitates another second, then backs up a step, hands raised.

The scrape of a shoe sounds to one side. Happy has retreated to the car, but Pete is still standing there, raptly watching the scene unfold. Rhodey rolls his eyes and takes his shoulder, motioning him back.

“Oh,” Pete says. “Oh, yeah, okay.” He gives Tony a spastic little wave, and wanders a few yards off, looking very intent on not looking at all intent.

Rhodey shakes his head, but it’s fond.

“So?” Barnes interrupts, motioning Tony and Steve together. “Explain.”

“Buck,” Steve says, quiet. Barnes rolls his eyes, too, flashes a glower at Tony, and retreats, not as far as Pete, but far enough. After a second, Rhodey follows. To the edges of the crowd. That might be forming.

“Shit,” Tony mutters. He’s not going to assess. If he looks and there are people staring, he’ll lose his nerve, and he owes Steve this. He moves a touch closer to Steve. “I, uh.”

In his field of vision, Steve’s hands flex, down at his sides. Tony swallows.

Look him in the eye.

“Steve,” he says. At least looking at his eyes is not a hardship. Tony could look at Steve’s eyes for years.

“Tony Stark,” Steve says, and Tony winces.

“I am so sorry,” he bursts out, and then the walls just come down, and it’s not nearly as strategic as it needs to be, and oh god, he’s going to lose Steve after all because he’s an idiot at heart, but he can’t stop. “You can’t know how sorry I am. It was the stupidest thing I’ve done in, in, I don’t know, a long time. Long time. Years. Well, maybe not years, I’ve done some stupid stuff, but it’s been a while since it messed me up this much, so I know it’s bad. I should never have pretended to be—” People, watching. “—what I pretended to be. I just, I don’t like being myself. There’s not much to like. As you’ve already figured out,” he adds helplessly, the ache gripping his guts anew. “You can’t know how, how weird it is to be known by everybody. Except they don’t know you, not really, and you know about that, and I’d hoped that you—”

Yeah, no, Rhodey’s voice cuts him off in his head. ‘I’ statements, Stark. Do not guilt trip him into feeling sorry for your ass.

“I wanted to be someone else, just for a minute,” he finishes lamely. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t know who I was.”

Until you. Steve’s a smart guy. He doesn’t have to say it.

Steve’s hands flex again, like he’s just itching to punch something. Tony’s eyes keep dropping to them, even though he’s trying to stay on Steve’s face. He can’t help how much the rest of Steve draws him, hadn’t realized how much he relies on Steve’s body for cues. When did he even get to know Steve well enough to draw cues from his body?

“I don’t…” Oh, good, now he can think, now he can sort through what he really wants to say. “I didn’t want to be me. Just for a night. The billionaire or the mogul, or the reformed weapons dealer. And then I just wanted to be with you. You knew what it was like, sort of, to not want to be yourself. You didn’t want anything from me.” He struggles with this one, but he’s got to get it out. Steve deserves the truth: “And then it was easier just to not say anything, to, to lie to your face instead of—”

Steve shoves him.

Or… no. Not shoves him. But he’s suddenly a hell of a lot closer, and his palm is hot against Tony’s chest, and he’s gripping Tony’s right arm, holding him in place.

“You almost died,” Steve breathes.

He’s… Tony squints. He told himself he wasn’t going to touch Steve, but he can’t help it: Steve’s shaking. Tony returns the grip, as steadying as he can make it, at Steve’s elbows. The leather is buttery under his fingers and Steve’s heat beats out into his hands. “What?”

Steve’s fingers clench in answer, just a little, in a ring over Tony’s chest. Over his heart. Tony looks down, surprise wiping everything else clean. “Oh.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve mumbles, inching backward. But he doesn’t step away, and he doesn’t release Tony. His face flushes red from the throat, and eventually he moves even closer, his palm flattening over the left side of Tony’s chest as though to hold his heart in place.

Tony squeezes his elbows in answer. “It was a long time ago.”

“I didn’t know.” Steve sounds way more helpless than he should. Tony’s fine, has been for years, and here’s Steve, on the edge of panic, and that’s why his hands were clenching. Tony stares up into Steve’s face, bewildered, unable to go any further. If he does, he might jump into something he has no business expecting.

“I didn’t know,” Steve says again.

“Aren’t you mad at me?” Tony asks, incredulous.

“I should be.” Steve takes a deep breath. His fingers flex, this time on Tony’s arm. “I know I should be.” He sounds even more disoriented by that, but he doesn’t let go, and he doesn’t let go, and he doesn’t let go. “But I just… I’m just…”

A flash goes off, and another one. Tony swallows, feeling sicker than a dog. “They’ll make your life a living hell,” he whispers. “They’ll follow you, they’ll say things about you and, when they find out who you really are, about what I’m doing to you—”

Steve kisses him.

It’s like his body has been waiting for it. Tony latches on, arms wrapped around Steve’s neck. Steve’s arm cinches tightly around his waist, hand splayed over his spine like he just wants to cradle all of Tony in his palm. His other hand glides up into Tony’s hair at the back of his head, tucking him close, tucking him in. He tastes like toothpaste and toast, like Steve. He’s not holding back at all. Tony whimpers and fights him for the kiss, trying to get deeper, to get at all of him before Steve withdraws any of it, but it’s not a fight he’s going to win. Steve systematically pulls one element after another out of his grip, until he’s kissing Tony breathless, an inch from utter abandon, as though they aren’t in the middle of a crowd, as though no one is around to see any of it, and all Tony can do is hold on.

“I told you I don’t care,” Steve rasps into his mouth, finally pulling back enough to allow a blade of air between them. He clenches Tony tight, almost painfully. “I don’t care.”

“Okay,” Tony breathes, feeling him tremble. He smoothes his hands down Steve’s arms, up over his shoulders. Down once more. “Okay.”

Steve kisses him again, and this time Tony forgets about the crowd completely.

By the time he comes out of it, everyone is chattering, and everyone has their cameras out. The clicking is like a thousand insects. And Steve is still holding him, still looking only at him. Tony hears a wolf whistle that might be Happy. He gives in and runs his hands through the hair he’s wanted to touch since that first night on the roof. It’s still as soft and loose as it looks, as it was the night Steve first kissed him. Steve’s scalp is warm.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” he says, clearly, for Steve alone.

“I know.”

“Hey,” Barnes snaps, and they both look up. Tony resists the urge to jump back. Barnes is going to have to make him let go.

Barnes is standing just inside the crowd ring, pointing a metal finger at Rhodey. They’re both grinning like children. “His name is James, too!”

Tony groans, and thunks his head onto Steve’s chest to the sound of Steve’s sigh. A hundred more flashes go off, but Steve’s hand finds its way back over Tony’s heart.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

“We’ve created a monster,” Tony says. Steve follows his gaze and laughs.

Rhodey and Barnes are currently parked on the curb down the street, their legs stretched out into the road, scaring people away with raucous laughter and flailing arms. Barnes has a cream-filled donut in one hand and half a Reuben in the other, and doesn’t seem to care which one he bites into at any given moment. Rhodey appears to have forgotten he’s in full dress uniform, and is wearing the hat he folded out of his sandwich wrapping.

“Major oversight,” Steve says, eyes warm. His face screws up. “Are they still talking about the Bell AH-1G Cobra?”

“Boys,” Tony sniffs. It makes Steve grin, and that’s a beautiful feeling.

Behind them, the fair is cleaning up. The crowd finally wandered away a while ago when they discovered Tony and Steve truly didn’t have anything to say. To them, at least. Tony and Steve have been sitting on their own stretch of curb near the green belt, happy enough to talk to each other. Though there hasn’t been an ungodly amount of that either. Tony turns Steve’s hands over in his, again. Steve’s hands are lovely. And perfect. Tony should know. He’s been holding them for a straight hour.

Steve’s been holding his hands, too.

“I wanted to impress you,” Steve says out of nowhere, drawing Tony’s eye. He’s smiling faintly now, like looking at Tony’s face is the answer to his every desire.

“Impress me?”

Steve nods. “So badly.”

Tony doesn’t know what to say or where to start. Steve gives a pleasant little sigh.

“That day at the coffee shop. I was trying to work out what you would think was a classy espresso drink to get. I don’t usually drink it. Espresso, I mean. I had no idea what I was doing. But there was no menu.”

“Steve.” Tony lifts Steve’s right hand and lays a chaste kiss across his knuckle. Steve’s fingers tighten briefly around his. “You have been impressing me since minute one.”

Steve drops his eyes. “Yeah,” he snorts. “Real impressive, stumbling over a one night stand proposition.”

Tony’s blood thrums, as it always does when Steve comes even close to the subject of sex. Maybe it’s just the subject of Steve, actually. At this point, Tony thinks Steve could talk about a garden gnome and Tony would get all hot and bothered. “You were the nicest person I’ve ever talked to. Respectful. Never once lost that class.”

“You’ve got class,” Steve rebuts. “I don’t.”

“You have old school class,” Tony murmurs, completely smitten with Steve’s profile. Again. He shakes his head, blinking out of it. “Never once pushed for anything I might not want.” Which is hilarious, really. Tony wants everything Steve will give him. But he doesn’t need everything, and that is weird. Part of him’s not sure what to do with this, and the rest of him is overjoyed at the prospect of anticipation. Of having to work properly for his rewards. “And I have the opposite of class,” he says, remembering himself. “I lied so you’d pay to sleep with me.”

Steve shrugs. Retwines their fingers. “If you had really wanted that, something tells me you would have managed it. But that’s not what you’re looking for.”

Tony blushes. “No, it’s not.”

Steve leans in without warning and kisses Tony on the mouth. It’s gentle but also insistent in that way that Steve is, all coltish and unfinished but determined as hell to see it through.

Tony has no problem letting him.

He’s leaned backward by the time they’re done, his hand firmly entrenched in Steve’s hair, Steve’s hand in his lap, his other arm snugged around Tony’s torso and pressing them firmly together. Holding him up. Steve lets him breathe again with a regretful sigh, but remains close, sharing the same air. The sunset washes gold and pink over them, turning Steve’s skin rosy.

“Can’t do that,” Tony rasps. He can’t find his voice. Or his thoughts, or air, really.

Steve nuzzles his mouth again, like he did that night, sending Tony’s stomach fluttering anew. “Do what?”

Uh, kiss him like that? Brush the tip of his nose against Tony’s lips like mouths are always for more than kissing? Lace their fingers like their hands were made to fit together, and then rub his thumb over the back of Tony’s hand over and over until the heat floods right up his arm? Plaster Tony to him so that Tony can feel every breath he takes, feel the patter of his heart, even? Maybe it’s Tony’s heart, not Steve’s, thumping away like that, but it makes no difference: There is no way to encompass all that Steve can’t do to him here on the street in full view of the public.

“I wanted to strip you naked,” Tony breathes, and they both go still as stone. Steve stares at him from inches away.

“When?” It’s a croak. It’s trembling, and that, Tony can feel, even under the hammering of his heart.

“When you pulled up on your bike.” It’s mortifying. He couldn’t stop it if he tried. Steve wants to know, so Tony will tell him. “Wearing that shirt and those jeans, and your hair a mess, and holy god, that jacket—”

And they’re kissing again, as hot as it was sweet before, as heavy as the weight of Steve’s hand in his. Steve’s fingers clench, tighter and tighter with each stroke of his tongue, firming their grip. This is no good. No good, Tony should stop this, right now, people have to be taking pictures, that’s what they do, probably live stream videos by now, and this is not appropriate. Tony raises his chin instead, asserts the angle, a flick of his tongue, and Steve just folds, mouth going slack and loose, and the most vulnerable, yearning little moan shivers out of him.

Son of a motherless goat. Tony jerks out of the kiss before he gives New York a real show.

“Sorry,” Steve whispers. Against his lips. Damn it, they cannot even manage an inch between them, what is wrong with them? Tony can’t stop touching him. Steve is breathing hard. He’s warm. He’s aroused. Tony doesn’t need to be pressed chest to hip to know that, but he is. So he knows.

“Don’t be,” is all Tony can think to say. Because he’s mush. He’s a fluffy, sad sack of mush and his stock is going to plummet into the ninth circle and he doesn’t give a damn.

“Aw, you’re putting me off my Reuben!” Barnes shouts from down the street.

“Shut up, Buck!” Steve shouts back, immediate.

Rhodey cracks up. “Get a room already.”

Tony clears his throat. He’s hot. Totally overheated, and reliving that kiss like a never ending GIF. “I have one, you know,” he says, half committed. “A room.”

Steve turns slowly back to look at him. “You do.”

“At the Palace. Penthouse suite.” Why the hell is he so nervous about this now? They’ve been flirting around it since they met. But that was built on lies and bravado, nothing even remotely substantial, and this…

This is him asking Steve to come to bed with him for the first time.

Just as he thinks it, Steve’s eyes widen in realization. Tony swallows. “It’s for people I’m wooing. For business,” he adds hastily when Steve’s eyes narrow again. “We show them the town. Put them up in the lap of luxury. But sometimes I go there myself. When I just want to drop the act and be me.”

That gorgeous flush rushes its way up Steve’s throat from under his collar. God, he’ll make out with Tony in the middle of the street like the world is ending, and this is what he blushes at? Tony has no idea how this crazy day will end, tangled together in a bed or on a roof under the stars. Not knowing appeals in a way it never has. His hand finds its way to the hollow of Steve’s throat and the delicious heat there. For a long moment, all he can hear is the two of them breathing.

“Want to make a night of it?” Steve asks quietly, looking him right in the eye.

Tony’s fingers are going to hurt from all the squeezing he’s doing. “Yes.” No frills, no jokes, no prevarication. His smile breaks, wide and uncontainable, and he squeezes Steve’s hand again. “Yes, I do.”

~fin~