Chapter 1: Grease Monkey
By the time Steve gets to his door, the knocking has gone from polite to frantic, and he almost vindictively wishes he’d stopped to throw on his shirt and made his impatient visitor wait even longer.
“What?” he snaps, throwing open the door.
“Hi,” says the guy, and Steve freezes, now definitely wishing that he’d thrown on a shirt because it’s hot mechanic guy from next door. Hot mechanic guy waves awkwardly and then runs his hands through his hair. He’s black up to his elbows, and Steve watches in fascination as the engine grease makes hot guy’s hair spike up.
“Hi,” he responds, and fights a losing battle to keep his ears from pinking. “Can I…can I help you?”
“Have I ever introduced myself? I haven’t, have I? Name’s Tony Stark. Inventor, mechanic, and family black sheep.” He extends a hand, catches sight of the engine grease and winces, quickly hiding it behind his back like a child caught with dirty hands before dinner.
“Steve,” he responds, tongue thick, blinking stupidly.
“Steve,” Tony says, nodding once and standing up on his tiptoes to try and see over Steve’s shoulder. “Steve, you’re…wow. Your apartment is really clean. Like really clean. That’s…wow.”
“Thank…you?” Steve says, hand on his neck and blush slowly spreading down his cheeks to his neck.
“I bet you cook, too, don’t you? You’re like some world-class chef. I can see it written all over those chiseled abs of yours.”
“Right. Sorry. Stepping on the bro culture. My bad.”
“No, that’s not…” Steve stops, shakes his head, and relocates his hands to his hips. “Can I help you?” he repeats.
“Help? No! Well, yes. Maybe. See, thing is. I’m the black sheep, right? Disappointment to the Stark name, good-for-nothing layabout who refuses to do as he’s told and take up the family business like the first son ought to.”
“What’s the family business?” Steve says, interrupting without really thinking.
“Murder,” Tony says cheerfully, and then plows on, clearly unaware of the stricken look of horror on Steve’s face. “So my parents kind of disinherited me until I can prove that I can make a living doing what I want, which is making cool things. Like robots. And artificial intelligence. Clean energy sources. You know. Cool things.”
“OoooK?” Steve is still blinking, trying to make sense of the guy’s million-mile-an-hour motormouth.
“Now, see. The thing is. To prove to my parents that I’m actually worthy of my inheritance and my cut of the company, I kind of have to prove I’m a responsible adult. And apparently the way one proves one is a responsible adult is not through earning a living wage, but rather through cleaning one’s apartment properly and feeding oneself on more than coffee and doughnuts. Do you see where I’m going with this, Steve?”
Steve scratches the back of his head again, processing the monologue and finally shrugging. “Honestly, not at all.”
“Oh,” Tony says, frowning into his grease-stained hand. After a moment, he runs his fingers the length of his goatee and ends up staining his entire chin with a ring of black. “I thought I was being perfectly clear. Let me try again. My parents just called me to let me know they’re coming to Boston tonight and they’re going to drop by and give me an inspection. You know? As in check my living conditions. The ones I was just describing.”
“Uh-huh…” Steve says slowly. He has an inkling where this is going now, but he is very afraid.
“So I was hoping I could borrow some cleaning supplies and some food that is neither coffee nor doughnuts so that they think I’m actually taking care of my place and eating right.”
Steve looks at the guy, takes in his earnestly hopeful expression and his fidgeting hands, and then sighs. “Sure. Let me just…I’ll gather up some stuff and bring it over. Ok?”
“Oh my god, thank you. I really…if they’d given me more warning I would’ve…you know…been responsible and gone out and—“
Tony continues talking even as Steve gathers up supplies and starts heaping them into his fabric supermarket bags. He snatches his vacuum out of the closet, and turns to Tony, offering everything he’s got.
“Wow. Wow, that’s a lot. That’s more than I…uh…do you think you could help me carry it over to my place.”
“Sure,” Steve says, only realizing after he’s already out the door that he’s still shirtless in just his running shorts and a pair of socks. He follows Tony over to his apartment and waits while Tony fishes out his keys. He unlocks the place and Steve blinks and then blinks again. Disaster area might be too light of a term to describe the chaos inside.
Tony’s already shoving his way over scattered mechanical parts and at least three laptops, dropping the bags on top of his coffee table, which is also covered in a layer of circuit boards and soldering wire. “Jesus fucking Christ,” Steve says as he steps in, glancing around. In spite of Tony’s grimy state, nothing in the apartment seems particularly filthy. Just incredibly disorganized and haphazard. Steve can’t even locate the doors that would lead to other rooms, since there are several pieces of sheet metal propped against the walls. “Where do you even sleep?”
“Sleep?” Tony says, and Steve groans, dropping his head.
“Do you even know how to use any of this?” Steve asks, gesturing to the cleaning supplies.
“Uh…would it help or hinder my case to know that my parents are rich and I’ve had a butler and cleaning service literally my entire life until moving out?”
Steve’s not sure whether he should laugh or cry. He takes another glance around the room and finally locates the sink. “Hold on just a second,” he says, carefully tiptoeing back out. “I need to make a call.”
Steve dashes back across the hall and calls Sam, Bucky, and Natasha. “I need the cavalry,” he tells them and then exits again, locking his door behind him. He makes his way back into Tony’s place and finds Tony standing in the center of the chaos looking profoundly confused. Steve points imperiously at the sheet metal and says, “First thing’s first. Let’s get this shit organized. Do exactly what I tell you.”
“Holy fuck, man,” Sam says, flopping down on Tony’s sofa. (It turns out Tony has a sofa and three chairs, but hell if Steve would have known at first glance.) Natasha is laying boneless across the back of the couch and Bucky is on the floor, spread-eagled and eyes closed. “You are so lucky I owed you a favor.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” Tony is still repeating ad nauseum, flitting between all of them, a cleaning rag still tossed across his shoulder. “I ordered pizza. It’s going to be arriving at Steve’s in half an hour. I’d invite you to eat here, but my parents are showing up in forty minutes and…well…god I’m an asshole.”
“Yes, you are,” says Bucky, flinging his hand over his eyes. “Where did you even find this guy, Steve?”
“He found me,” Steve replies, leaning against the wall and grinning at them all. Now that all the mechanical wares are organized into plastic tubs and drawers in the guest room, Tony’s place is actually pretty large, and the windows make it nice and sunny. Steve is wishing he was on this side of the building just for the great light.
“Beers! I can get you guys beers! Or something stronger? Do you guys drink?”
“Tony,” Steve says, reaching out and catching him. “Breathe. And maybe hop in the shower. You’re filthy.” Steve pauses for a moment, looking him up and down. “Are you even old enough to buy alcohol?”
“Maaaaaaaaaybe,” Tony says, dancing out of Steve’s hold. “I mean, I can just give you money. You’re old enough, right?”
“Jesus, how old are you?” Sam asks, lifting his hand from his face to look at Tony.
“Twenty, thank you I’m not a complete baby.”
Steve breathes a little sigh of relief, because with Tony’s slight frame, he’d been worried the kid wasn’t even eighteen yet. He inhales and says, “Shower. Impress your parents. Come over after they’re gone and have some of the pizza.”
“Come over? Really?”
Steve grins at that. “Really really.” Reading his signal, Natasha, Bucky, and Sam all rise and make for the door. Steve trails them with Tony at his heels.
“You saved my ass. Seriously. I don’t know how to thank you. How do normal, non-rich people thank each other?”
Steve turns in the doorway and catches Tony’s eye, leaning against the doorjamb and crossing his arms. The movement has the intended effect when Tony freezes, his eyes trained on Steve’s biceps and pecs.
“You could let me take you out for dinner,” Steve says, smiling just a little.
“I could…” Tony says slowly, and then his eyes dart to Steve’s face. “Wait. What about bro-culture?”
Behind him, Bucky slaps Steve’s shoulder. “This guy majored in studio art and spent his off hours getting into fist fights with bros who didn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer. I don’t think you need to worry about bro-culture.”
“So what do you say?” Steve says, hope tipping his lips up. “Date?”
“I…yes. Date. Nice date. I’m paying. Let’s…details. After.” Tony’s phone starts vibrating across the table and he jumps a little, eyes darting back. “Parents. Shower. Thank you! Bye!”
He closes the door, just shy of a slam, and Steve blinks at the little silver 204. Bucky smacks him again and says, “Come on Casanova. Pizza is calling.” Steve turns and fishes out his keys, and even with Bucky’s ribbing, he can’t seem to erase the dumb smile on his face.
Chapter 2: Gentle Cycle, Cold Water Only
T plus 7 days
he said 7 and its 7:30 should i call him?
dude, he lives across the hall go fucking knock and stop asking me for dating advice
but youre so good at it
Steve stares down at the screen of his phone for a moment, wondering if he should text back just to be an asshole. Sam does have a point, but Tony had distinctly said he’d be picking Steve up. Or at least Steve thinks he said that. Actually he’s not 100% sure. Maybe he only imagined that and really Tony’s waiting for him to knock and thinking he’s been stood up.
Setting his mouth in determination, Steve opens his front door and marches across the hall, knocking soundly on Tony’s door three times. He waits. And waits. And waits a little more before knocking again, more loudly and more forcefully than before. Still nothing.
“Why didn’t you get his number, Rogers?” he mutters at himself, glaring at the silver lettering on the door. He tries knocking again, so loudly that Tony’s neighbor pokes her head out and glares.
“Can I help you?” she asks pointedly, flicking her red hair and looking like she’s gearing up to rip him a new one.
“Do you know where Tony is? Your neighbor?”
“I’m Steve. I live across the way. We were supposed to have dinner together tonight.”
“Oh! Oh, you’re Steve!” Her expression changes in an instant, and she bustles into the hallway and extends a hand to him. “Hi, I’m Pepper. Tony’s friend. Is he not answering his door?”
“No. And I didn’t think to get his number since, you know,” Steve says, gesturing at the space between his door and Tony’s. “Didn’t think I’d have trouble finding him.”
“Well let me just call him and see,” Pepper says, already whipping out a sleek black phone. Steve’s never seen anything like it, and he stares as she slides her fingers across the screen and holds it to her ear. “Tony? Your date’s looking for you.” Her expression quickly grows thunderous. “No, I’m not stalling for you. Where are you? You can’t’ve… …. Tony. No, Tony, that’s not… ….No, Tony. You made your bed, now sleep in it.”
She hangs up, pressing her finger forcefully against the glass and glaring at the screen as though she’s hoping it will spontaneously combust.
“Is everything…ok?” Steve asks, fighting the urge to back up a step.
“Everything is fine. He’s in the laundry room. You go on down and give him a piece of your mind for being thirty minutes late.”
Pepper pats his shoulder in almost the exact same way Steve has seen people pat their dogs and then turns and bustles back into her apartment. He stands there a moment, processing, and then turns toward the stairs to go find Tony. The machines are in the basement but even from the first floor landing, looking down the stairwell, Steve can tell something has truly gone amiss.
“Tony?” he calls, frowning at the shining floor. That is definitely water. There’s a bang and then a loud exclamation from below.
“Steve? Steve!” Tony’s head appears around the corner, extended at an awkward angle. “Give me just…like, five more minutes. I’ll have this all cleaned up and then we can go.” He disappears again, but there’s a loud squeaking sound, a cry, and another resounding “fuck” from Tony’s direction.
Steve scuttles down the stairs, wincing as water squelches on the tile. He turns the corner and finds Tony laid out on his back in only a pair of black boxer briefs, phone clutched in hand and water and soap suds trickling around him from the laundry room door. “Tony?”
“Shit,” Tony says, but he makes no move to rise.
Steve squeaks his way across the tile flooring and peers down at Tony, trying not to let his gaze drop too far south. “What is going on?”
“Well, I figured date, clean clothes, those things kind of go hand in hand. So I was just…doing laundry?”
Leaning to the right, Steve manages to get his first glimpse into the laundry and blanches. Mountains of suds rise from three of the washers, and one of the dryers is slowly rocking its way across the floor on uneven feet, scuttling along in film of water and soap.
“Are you kidding me?” Steve breathes, and he can feel the way his eyes have widened in horror. He looks back down at Tony, who has closed his eyes and laid his head back down, limbs spread and palms up. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for lightning to strike me and end my misery,” Tony replies, cracking an eye. “It doesn’t seem to be working.”
Steve sighs and leans over, offering Tony a hand. “Let me guess. Laundry service?”
“My entire life,” he says as he scrambles to his unsteady feet.
“You coulda just asked, Tony. I woulda shown you how to do it.”
“No, see. No, I couldn’t have, because that would make not once but twice that you would see I’m a complete loser and give you ample reason to blow me off.” Almost as soon as he’s said it, Tony clamps his hands over his mouth. “Fuck me,” he whispers through his clenched fingers and Steve grins.
“Not until the third date.”
Tony’s eyes go wide and his cheeks go pink, but Steve’s already turning back to the laundry room, studying it with a critical eye. “First thing’s first. Let’s get this mess cleaned up. I’m gonna run up to my place and get a mop and some towels. Maybe a bucket. You…you know mechanics. Get the machines shut down. Completely powered off. I don’t care how you do it so long as you don’t break ‘em.”
After a moment more of gaping, Tony closes his mouth and sets his pointed chin in a determined line. “Aye, aye, Captain,” he says, tossing a jaunty salute and turning to face his foes. Steve takes the stairs three at a time to gather up his cleaning supplies. He has a feeling they have a long night ahead of them.
“I never want to move again,” Tony says, slumped on top of the dryer, feet dangling. “We must’ve hauled fifty gallons of water.”
“I’m thinking more,” Steve replies, wiping at the sweat on his brow. He’s not quite sure what he did with his button-up, but it’s probably mixed in with Tony’s hopelessly pink whites. Steve’s undershirt is completely soaked through, but he’s guessing from the glances Tony keeps stealing that the view is appreciated. The big upright fan they set at the end of the hall to help things dry out sends a cool breeze across his skin and he shivers, hunching in a little.
“What time is it anyway?” Tony asks, sitting up and giving Steve an eyeful of flexed abdomen and blacksmith’s muscle.
He shakes himself and glances at his phone. “Twenty past midnight.”
“Oh my god!” Tony says, dropping down from the dryer and nearly wiping out on the slick floors. “Our date. I’ve gotta…our reservations, shit. I…”
“Tony,” Steve says, catching him by the shoulders and squeezing reassuringly, “it’s ok. Let’s just order a pizza and have a beer or something. We can have date night some other time. Some time when we haven’t just hauled fifty gallons or more of water.”
“Is that…are you sure?” Tony asks, eyes wide, mouth uncertain.
“Positive,” Steve says, giving his most winning smile. It seems to have the desired effect because Tony slowly nods and then looks between them, as though realizing for the first time he’s still in only his underwear. He jumps away from Steve and turns toward the stairs, his ears wonderfully pink.
“Ok. Let’s go.”
“Tony, Jesus!” Steve says before he thinks better of it.
Looking over his shoulder, Tony’s eyes are quizzical. “What is it?”
“Your shoulder is solid black and blue,” Steve says, reaching out and touching without thinking. Tony’s skin is feverishly hot and swollen where the bruising is worst.
“Huh,” he says, twisting as though he might just catch a glimpse of it. “Guess it’s from when I slipped and fell. The first time. Or maybe the second. It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt too bad.”
Steve raises an eyebrow at him, his mouth pulling to the side in displeasure. Then, eyes still locked with Tony’s, he leans forward and sets a soft kiss to the bruise.
Tony’s eyes go round with surprise, and he freezes, barely breathing at all.
Steve smiles a slow smile at him. “Let’s go up and order that pizza and get an ice pack on your shoulder. I’ll even let you have a beer.”
Just like that the spell is broken and Tony rolls his eyes. “Gee, thanks. Does this mean I get to sit at the big kids’ table now?”
Steve grins and steps up so he can gingerly slip his arm around Tony’s shoulder. “Well, I’m not sure about that. Pretty sure you have to be able to do your own laundry to sit at the big kids’ table.”
Tony’s gasps with indignation, but he presses himself into Steve’s side and slides a tentative hand around Steve’s waist, squeezing a little. Together they slog back up the stairs, buckets and mops in hand, to have their well-earned date.
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Chapter 3: Call the Police and the Firemen
T plus 4 months
hey stud muffin what time u gettin home
From under a dull red awning, Steve glares up at the glowering sky, cursing the rain and hail and the fact that he’s somehow found the one place in all of New York that is not in easy walking distance of a subway stop.
good question, he texts, still staring up at the sky like it insulted his mother. stuck in the rain
Tony texts a photo back, a selfie that’s maybe a little too zoomed in, because Tony’s right eye is bugged like a mad scientist in a C-movie from the forties. A moment later, his phone jingles jauntily.
shit. not what i
Hail stones are bouncing off the ground, big as quarters. Steve winces as the windshield on a car across the way cracks under the deluge. Further down the block, another car is blaring and blinking, its alarms tripped by the insistent, inclement weather. A minutes passes and then another. Tony doesn’t finish his thought.
Tony? Steve texts, and he feels a shiver of apprehension. Since the washing machine incident, they’ve managed to have six successful dates and several more nights of just hanging out and watching films. Or rather, not watching films. Steve has enjoyed all of these nights immensely, though he’s pretty sure Sam, Nat, and Bucky didn’t appreciate the eyeful of Tony’s ass the one night they’d invited themselves up for beers.
In the course of their four months of dating, Tony seems to have more or less gotten the hang of keeping his apartment neat and doing laundry without flooding the basement, though he’s still managed to turn three more loads soft pink, and once (Steve is completely baffled as to how he managed this) royal purple. As learning curves go, Tony is traveling at light speed, but Steve has a gut feeling, and he’s learned those are usually pretty damn accurate.
His phone dings and Tony’s reply highlights across the screen. sorry sorry sorry. just a little hiccup. a little snafu. teeny tiny malfunction. we’re good. peachy. peachy keen. :))))))))))))
Steve frowns down at his phone for a moment, raises his hand, and hails a taxi. The hail’s subsiding a little bit, and Steve will take his chances with broken glass. He rattles off his address and shoots a text to Pepper. anything strange happening at the apartment?
Her reply is instantaneous. I’m on business in DC. Why? What’s wrong?
Steve sends her a copy of Tony’s message and waits. Pepper has known Tony for six years and can read the cryptic moods in-between his slapdash texts the same way a geologist can read layers of sedimentary rock. Her reply comes after fifty seconds of careful consideration. Get home fast. Something is definitely wrong.
Already on my way.
The ride home takes an agonizing thirty-five minutes, detoured as they are by a flooded road and backed up traffic. Everyone else took taxis too, it seems like. Steve’s leg jiggles nervously against the floor of the cab, and his portfolio rattles anxiously in his hands, echoing the pounding rain outside. When they turn the corner onto his block, his blood freezes and snaps in his veins, a crushing expansion of water that obliterates him from the inside out. There are two firetrucks and an ambulance parked outside their building, and even through the sheets of rain, Steve can see smoke crawling into the darkening sky.
Unthinking, he dashes from the cab while it’s still in motion, rolling across the pavement and pushing himself up to a sprint before the taxi driver’s even begun to cuss him out. There are a few firefighters forming a perimeter around the building, but he barrels through them like a linebacker. Mrs. Sullivan is huddled in the ambulance under an orange shock blanket, and her husband is glowering beside her, staring up at the building. Closer to the door, the landlord is chatting with a police officer.
Steve only manages to hear the words “tragedy” and “real shame” before he’s leapt up the stairs and shoved through to the main entrance.
“Steve?” Ms. Ortega says behind him, but he’s digging for his keys, frantically trying to open the door. “Steve! Steve, what are you doing?”
“Tony,” he pants, fumbling for the right key, hands shaking, whole body shaking. “I gotta…he…Tony…”
“Steve?” It’s like panacea, a hit of ecstasy, like the very nectar of the gods itself. Steve twists, ignoring the hands grasping at his arms and shoulders. He’s suddenly surrounding by people, all of them pulling him in different directions, but beyond the line of blurred faces, he sees him.
“Tony!” Steve takes off again, bowling over two firefighters and hitting Tony like a freight train. He enfolds him in a hug, squeezing so tightly that he feels Tony’s toes lift off the ground and brush the tops of his boots.
There’s no time for words, not when hands are still grabbing at him, threatening to pull them apart. He yanks Tony down and kisses him, angry and frightened and cherishing all at the same time, teeth dragging across Tony’s lip until flesh gives way to tongue, and then the hands are gone, all save Tony’s voracious touch.
“You—fucking—asshole,” Steve says between kisses, nipping at Tony’s jaw, digging nails into his thin t-shirt. “What—the fuck? Smiley faces? Fucking—smiley faces, Tony?”
“You’re one to talk,” Tony huffs back, spacing his words between complimentary whines and grunts. “You just assaulted, like, ten emergency personnel.”
That brings Steve crashing back to reality, though he can’t bring himself to jump away, not when Tony’s warm and wet and breathing right in his arms. He tapers off his kisses and presses his forehead to Tony’s, exhaling slowly, only to breathe in machine oil and metal tang and petrichor.
Finally, he eases his grip and turns to the firefighters and Mrs. Ortega, all of whom are staring at him with a range of expressions varying from wry amusement to perturbed indignation. He grins sheepishly and pulls Tony deeper into the shadow of his body, shivering as rain seeps through his jacket.
“I’m sorry, officers. I was…”
“It’s fine,” one of the firefighters says, waving her hand. “Just next time maybe explain the situation before you play ten-pin with us.”
“And get your boyfriend some cooking lessons,” another added derisively, turning away with a snort.
Steve’s eyebrows hit his hairline and he turns back to Tony, who is looking with a great deal of interest at the tire well of the ambulance. “‘Little snafu’?” he asks, pulling Tony in closer still, so that he can only look at Steve’s face or his armpit. Tony elects armpit and buries his nose deep. “Infinitesimally small snafu,” he says into the jacket, voice deliberately muffled.
“What did you do?”
“Well…I figured cooking is just chemistry, so…”
“I was going to surprise you. With delicious pie. Apple pie. For you, Steve. American as apple pie. Right? Right.”
“I maybe…ignited the flour.”
“What? I still have my eyebrows.”
“Oh my god.”
“It’s not even the biggest explosion I’ve ever accidentally set off.”
“You,” Steve huffs, lifting Tony like he weighs nothing, “are in so much trouble.”
Someone behind him hems and haws, and Steve turns to find the irate taxi driver, bearing his portfolio. Tony senses a weak spot and proffers his wallet, paying the driver three times what the actual fare.
From the stoop, Mrs. Ortega cups her hands around her mouth and yells, “Alright everyone. You’re cleared to head back in. Tony, bambino, where you gonna stay?”
“With me, Mrs. Ortega,” Steve says quickly. “That is…if he didn’t destroy my apartment, too.”
“No, no, Steve. Your apartment’s fine. His next door neighbor’s, though…”
A grin spreads across Steve’s face, slow and wicked. “Did you destroy Pepper’s apartment?”
“Destroy is such a strong word, Steve,” Tony says as they trudge up the stairs, dripping and cold. “I…I remodeled a little. Just a few new windows.”
“Well, at least I know I don’t need to punish you. She’s going to eviscerate you. I’m never going to see you again. She’ll send you to Mt. Everest to live out the rest of your days sans wireless. She’ll,” Steve pauses, eyes glittering gleefully, “she’ll take away your phone.”
Tony gasps, and presses a hand to his chest, fingers spread wide. “I’m a goner. We better have life-affirming sex before I go. You know. Since you’re never gonna see me again. Better make it count.”
Something about that hits a little to close to home, and Steve pulls Tony into his apartment with sudden urgency, yanking him so close that it almost feels like there’s no delineation between them; they are of one body. “Don’t fucking scare me like that,” he says, deftly peeling Tony’s shirt over his head. “Don’t fucking do that to me. I only just found you.”
Tony shudders under Steve’s touch, his breath leaving his lungs in short bursts, his stomach flexing beneath Steve’s fingers.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I…”
They’re kissing again before he can finish his thought, and Steve groans and pulls them back onto the sofa, so that Tony can straddle him. There’s nothing elegant about their love-making. It’s clumsy and hurried, knees knocking and fingers slipping, losing purchase. At one point, Tony leans so far back he nearly tumbles off the couch altogether, but Steve bends forward and catches his waist, pulling him back in, always pulling him closer. He climaxes after only a minute of frantic stroking, and then flips them so he can suck Tony off, hands splayed over Tony’s chest and knees caging his shins.
“Holy shit,” Tony breathes, just as frenzied as Steve, his hands clutching at shoulders, hair, neck, back. He comes with a bitten whimper, his teeth sharp on his lips, and Steve nearly comes again at just the sight, even though he’s already gone soft.
When Tony’s finished his shuddering, Steve rolls onto the carpet and pulls Tony down with him. They lay in a sweaty wet heap, breathing in and out and in again. In a half-doze, adrenaline crash hitting as hard as a battering ram, Steve murmurs, “Show you pie tomorrow. God you’re hopeless.”
Tony grunts and snuggles in closer, burying his head in Steve’s neck.
“Love you,” Steve whispers, drawing Tony even closer, hitching a knee over Tony’s legs. There’s no response but a sleepy, contented murmur and the drizzle of the rain against the windows.
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Chapter 4: Blue Streak
T plus 7 months
Tony lets himself into Steve’s apartment without knocking, and revels for a moment just inside the door, savoring the fact that they’ve grown so close. His little fire hiccup has done wonders for their relationship, and Tony’s never really felt this way about anyone before. He’s thinking about asking Steve to move in; he knows his apartment has the better light, and it’s bigger, too. They could convert his parts storage room into a studio and rent out a storage space so that Tony isn’t forever dragging motor oil over every surface. Steve probably wouldn’t like motor oil on his paintings.
It’s as he’s letting go of the door handle that he hears it.
“Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck kind of a call was that, ump? Are you blind? Good god, you scum sucking two timing traitor asshole. Did you not see the ball? Fuck me, this is terrible.”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Rogers. There’re still six innings.”
“Not if they keep shitting the bed like this.”
On cat feet, Tony creeps to the edge of the hallway and peeks in. Steve and Bucky are sitting on the couch, watching a baseball game. Steve’s leaning forward, his chin in his hands, shoulders tense. Bucky’s draped across the back of the couch, completely at ease, like a king presiding over his court. He’s watching Steve with a lazy shark grin.
Tony glances at the screen and catches sight of the Mets’ uniforms. That explains it. He grins and settles in a little, just to watch Steve be Steve.
The pitcher throws another ball, and Steve nearly jumps to his feet. “Come on, Harvey. God, my grandmother throws better, and she’s been dead more’n twenty years, rest her soul. You can just…fuck. Fucking pig spleen.”
“I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em,” Steve says as his head droops, hands running over his face. On the screen, the batter makes an easy walk to first, and the next guy slams a double right away. Just like that, the Yankees are up by two points, and Steve is moaning like he’s just been socked in the stomach. “They paid off the ump. There’s no way…”
“Rogers, the Mets have been losing for decades. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if they broke their grand old tradition.”
“I’d probably cry tears made of solid diamonds, Buck, that’s what I’d do. Solid fucking diamonds.”
“Sounds like it would hurt.”
“Did you come here to sass me or to watch baseball?”
“Who says I can’t do both?”
Steve snorts and sighs in relief as the pitcher finally manages to strike out a third batter. The teams switch places, and it might be top of the fourth, but the Mets are already dragging their heels as they head into their dugout.
He perks up a little when two guys manage to get out onto the bases, both of them toeing dangerous leads in hopes of scoring a run. And then Steve whoops. “Come on, Murphy. Give those Yanks whatfor. Make ‘em cry for their mamas.”
In his corner, Tony doesn’t even try to fight it as his grin grows even dopier. He personally doesn’t see much in sports beyond the joy of statistics, but Steve sees something deeper, some sort of heart that speaks to him. It’s a pleasure just to watch.
Murphy strikes on the first pitch, but the second one sings, the sharp crack buzzing on Steve’s shitty speakers.
“Yeah!” Steve says, leaping to his feet and leaning in, remote clutched in hand. The right outfielder is sprinting for the backboards, and Tony can already see the trajectory. It all depends on how high the guy can jump. The two batters on base have already rounded home plate, and Murphy is flying like the devil’s on his heels. Even Bucky’s leaning forward now, elbows on his knees and face intent.
The ball is descending from the apex of its parabola now, drawing nearer and nearer the frantic outfielder. Even Tony is holding his breath. Time stretches, expands to fill the gaps, and they all freeze as ball and glove approach impact.
“FUCK YEAH!” Steve roars as the outfielder misses his leap by six inches. The ball bounces off the backboard and goes rolling away and Murphy clears home base. Steve pumps his fist and in that moment, Tony sees a very different kind of parabola as the remote slips free of Steve’s grip and goes flying right into the TV, jutting there like some sort of obscene arrow.
The screen shatters into a massive spiderweb and the picture becomes a thousand rainbows of neon color. Steve and Bucky both freeze as the sound continues on for a moment, the roar of the crowd crackling and faint, and then abruptly cuts off.
All the time that had expanded in the lead up to the collision of ball and glove collapses in with a whoosh and Steve’s hands drop, absolutely gobsmacked. “What. The. Fuck? Jesus fucking Christ on a shit cracker, what the fuck have I done? Fuck me. Fuck fuck fuck.”
At that, Tony loses it. He snorts, and then giggles, and then bursts into all out laughter, collapsing to his knees when his stomach can no longer support him.
He’s distantly aware of Steve saying “Tony?” his voice laced with confusion and the remains of his own shock.
“That…” Tony wheezes between spasms of delight “was—priceless. Ohmygod.” He’s laughing so hard sound is no longer coming from his throat, it’s just contraction after contraction of his abdomen and the tears leaking from his eyes. “What—a—mouth—on you—Rogers.”
Bucky’s laughing, too, lounging and looking pleased with himself. Steve’s crossed his arms and looks caught between irritation and amusement. “Ha ha. Laugh it up. I see how it is. See if I give either of you free beer anymore.”
Bucky recovers while Tony is still curled on the floor, clutching his stomach and hiccuping with joy. “Well, since your TV is busted, Rogers, I’m gonna go bug Sam until he lets me watch the game on his. You two boys have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“What does that even leave?” Steve asks, but Bucky’s already walked past Tony, tossing off a careless wave as he exits. After a moment, Steve crosses to Tony and hauls him to his feet, smiling wryly. “Glad I could amuse you.”
“Well,” says Tony, finally starting to catch his breath, “I’ve gotta say I’m a little relieved. I was worried you were too damn perfect for me, but as it turns out, you blaspheme so hard even my ears turned blue.”
Steve blushes a little, hand automatically rising to the back of head. “Well, I’m from Brooklyn. What’s your excuse?”
“I’m from Manhattan. And I didn’t say I didn’t like it. My exact words were, ‘What a mouth on you, Rogers.’” Tony leers a little, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “I think that’s really quite a compliment, don’t you?”
“Do you now?” Steve says, crossing his arms and trying for sternness.
“Not many people have mouths as talented as yours, Steve.”
“That so?” Steve steps in a little closer, loosing one hand so that he can trace the line of Tony’s collar.
“God’s honest shit cracker truth.”
Steve snorts and drops his forehead to Tony’s shoulder, shoulders shaking helplessly as he holds back his own laughter. “God you…you are terrible,” he says, adding a gentle bite for emphasis. Tony shudders beneath him and hums.
“See? Talented mouth.”
“Well, the only way you’re gonna see what this talented mouth can do is if you let me watch the rest of the game on your TV.”
“I think that can be arranged.” Steve hums into Tony’s skin and bites again, adds a little tongue, like the touch of a promise.
“Love you, grease monkey.”
“Love you, too, blue streak.”
Chapter 5: Turpentine Dissolves both Grease and Oil Paint
Tony and Steve both have messy hobbies.
Originally posted on tumbler here in answer to the prompt "Character A and B are in public. A notices that B has something smeared on their face (sauce/paint) & is really distracted by it & keeps glancing at them. B thinks A is flirting & flirts w/ A. B is embarrassed when A tells them but it all ends well."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
T plus 10 months
i’m @ the bar down near bathrooms
don’t see you
Steve cranes his neck, but Tony disappears in the press of the crowd, and seeing through all the bodies is nearly impossible. They shouldn’t have come on a game night, but a few drinks out had seemed like a good idea, especially since Tony had finally turned twenty-one and they could do this in public now. So Steve had come straight from his tiny cubicle to the bar, only to meet a cloud of beer fumes and raucous shouting about the football game playing on all the TVs. Maybe some place a little closer to home would’ve been quieter, but Tony wanted to meet near Steve’s office building.
Slowly but surely, he squeezes himself through the crowd, yelping when someone takes the chance to cop a feel. God, he hates these kinds of crowds. Hates them. His phone buzzes again with another text.
i see u. get over here loverboy
With a sigh, Steve fights his way through the crowd, ostensibly toward the bathroom, but with the gentle curve of his trajectory aiming for the bar. Finally he spots black hair sticking out every which way. No wonder Tony blends in so well. He looks minuscule next to the linebacker sitting on his right. Steve’s heart flutters with a wash of protective feeling and he reaches out as soon as he's in range to touch Tony’s shoulder.
Tony turns in his seat and grins up and Steve’s jaw drops. It isn't that he hasn't seen Tony covered in grease before. Hell, the first time they really met, Tony was up to his elbows in sticky black oil. It’s just that in public, Tony normally makes an effort to be, if not presentable, than at least attractive. The black smear that spreads from his hairline down the side of his face to his jawline is decidedly…well, Steve thinks it's attractive, cute even, but he has a biased opinion. He blinks and realizes Tony is talking, shouting really, through the din of the bar.
“—a ghost. Steve? Steve, honey, answer me! Say something. Anything.”
“Tony, you…” Steve can’t laugh. He can’t. He needs to hold it in for Tony’s sake. Just a gentle smile and a quiet whisper in his ear to let him know. Tony blinks and raises his eyebrows inquisitively and the lines of black on his face move with his skin. Steve presses his lips together and bites down hard to keep from laughing. It's just…
“Have I got something on my face?” Tony asks, and that's it. Steve lets out one raucous guffaw right in Tony’s face and then has to press a hand over his mouth as other bar patrons turn to stare.
“Babe, have you looked in a mirror today?” Steve wheezes between his swallowed laughter. To soften the blow, he reaches up and cups the clean side of Tony’s face, his lips still wriggling uncontrollably with his laughter.
“Of course? I combed my hair and everything.”
“And after that, did you handle any moving engine parts?”
“No. I’ve been out running errands all day. Haven’t been in my workroom even once.” But then Tony’s face goes thoughtful and he tilts his head a little, looking down and to Steve’s right. “I did help that taxi in lower Manhattan. Checked his radiator for him. But that shouldn’t have…” Tony’s frown deepens and he glances down at his left hand. Sure enough, there's black engine grease there, too.
“Oh my god!” Tony breathes and then leaps up, dashing for the bathroom. Steve follows, pressing past a man who's exiting. Tony is at the brown-stained sink, staring at his reflection with abject horror. He speaks without turning to Steve. “I met a potential investor today. I can’t remember if it was before or after the taxi. Oh my god, Steve, what if I looked like this when I met with her? What if I had this horrible stuff on me the whole damn time.”
“Somebody would’ve said something, I’m sure,” Steve murmurs. He's still smiling, but he puts his hands on Tony’s shoulders, kneading at them gently. “They wouldn’t have let you talk to them with a streak of grease all the way down your face.”
“But the bartender didn’t say anything. The checkout lady at the pharmacy didn’t say anything. No one’s been staring. Oh…wait…”
“That big guy sitting next to me at the bar. He was making eyes at me. Or I thought he was. He kept glancing over. I thought he was flirting and I was getting ready to let him down gently. Do you think he was staring at this?”
“Well, to be fair, you look pretty damn good, even covered in oil.”
Tony groans and turns, pressing his face into Steve’s shoulder. “Can we just pick up a six-pack at the bodega and go home? I don’t think I’m in the mood for being out anymore.”
“Sure thing, Grease Monkey. We’ll get that fancy Vermont stuff you like.”
“Can we?” Tony looks up with his big eyes, one of them ringed in solid black, and Steve guffaws again. In retaliation, Tony punches his shoulder. Steve leans down and kisses Tony, maybe a little more thoroughly than is strictly appropriate for a public bathroom, but he doesn’t care if Tony doesn’t. When he pulls away, he looks up and checks his jaw in the mirror. Sure enough, a little smear of grease has transferred.
“There,” he says, looking back down at Tony. “Now we match.”
“Aren’t we just the hopeless romantic,” Tony muses, but he tucks himself under Steve’s arm and points imperiously at the bathroom door. “Let’s go get some beer.”
“Yeah, babe?” Steve doesn’t turn from his canvas, carefully applying cobalt blue to the edge of the shape he's roughing out. He isn’t quite sure what form the shape will end up taking, but he's letting instinct guide him. He isn’t much for abstraction normally, but some days, when anxiety and anger churn up inside of him one after the other, he doesn’t want strict form in his paintings.
He hears Tony behind him, a quick anxious shuffle at the entrance to the room they’ve converted into a studio/workroom. Tony’s things for inventing take up one half of the room, and Steve’s painting and sculpting supplies take up the other half. For a long moment, Tony is silent, and Steve knows he can see the violence on the canvas, the criss-crossing brush strokes that spread like branching lightning from the center.
“You want me to order a pizza for tonight? Crack a few beers? We can sit and watch whatever movie you want.”
Steve sighs and feels some of the tension bleed out of his shoulders. He’s never had a lover who figures out his moods as quickly as Tony does. It's nice, not to have to vocalize his feelings on the days where the words don’t quite work right for him. It's nice that Tony can just take one glance at him and go into protective mode. And so long as protective mode doesn’t involve cooking (Tony is still only barely able to make scrambled eggs on a good day) the things he does for Steve make it easier to breathe. It's nice.
He sets his brush down momentarily and turns to face Tony. “Yeah. Yeah that would be nice.”
Rather than dashing off to make a call for pizza, though, Tony remains in the door, face frozen. His lips quiver a little, and then a little more. “You, uh, you really got into the zone today?” He sounds like he’s feeling out the room, trying to figure out how Steve’s going to react to something.
“I guess.” Steve glances back to the canvas, his stomach twisting and clenching as he gets caught up in the lines.
“‘Cause you, uh…” Steve turns back and finds Tony has taken a few steps closer. He gestures up at his nose and then says, “you got a little something. Just here.” Then points at his cheek. “And here.” And then at his hair just in front of his ear. “Here too.”
Steve reaches up and touches those spots, becomes conscious for the first time of the paint that's crusted dry there. “Oh god,” he murmurs, smiling in self-deprecation. “I guess I really did get in the zone.”
“It’s nice,” Tony says, grinning a little now that Steve is smiling. “Blue suits you.”
“Oh yeah?” Steve glances up and then his eyes dart to his paintbrush. “It suits you too, you know.”
“Steve,” Tony says, holding up his hands and drawing out the “e” of Steve’s name. “Babe. Blue Streak. Hey! That’s an even more apt nickname today. You know? ‘Cause you’ve got a blue streak. On your face.”
Steve takes up his paintbrush, his smile growing even more intent as he stands and begins stalking forward.
“Babe. Think of my clothes. My beautiful clothes.”
“You mean that crappy tank you’re wearing?”
“I happen to like this tank top very much, thank you.”
“You’ll like it even more with a little blue.”
“No. No, Steve! No!” Tony makes an exaggerated noise of betrayal as Steve tackles him to the floor, very deliberately smearing blue paint in a line down his shirt. He finishes it off by dotting Tony’s nose and then his cheek.
“It’ suits you,” he says with a growl, fighting to keep Tony’s hands pinned while he paints more dots on Tony’s skin and shirt. Somehow, Tony manages to get a bit of paint on his fingers and he promptly uses them to smear paint down Steve’s neck. After that, it's a paint war that quickly devolves into kissing with occasional smears of paint spread by questing fingers.
After his lips start tingling and Tony finishes sucking a bruise into his neck, Steve sighs and sinks down on top of Tony, pillowing his head on top of the paint on Tony’s shirt. “Thanks,” he whispers into skin and cotton. “I needed that.”
“Happy to help,” Tony returns, darting down to kiss the top of Steve’s head. He sighs happily and flops down on the floor, his hand loose on Steve’s shoulder blade. “So, pizza?”
“Yeah pizza. But only if you answer the door looking like that.”
He can’t see Tony’s grin, but he can hear it in his voice. “That, I can do.”
For more fanfiction and nerdery, you can find me on tumblr.
Chapter 6: Leaf-peepers
T plus 1 year 2 months
“I can’t believe you convinced me to do this,” Tony grumbles as Steve passes him a helmet.
“Don’t pin this on me, Mr. Let’s-go-up-for-a-romantic-getaway-in-nature. You were the one who said it would be fun and sexy to take the motorcycle.”
“Well, that was when I was envisioning you in the bitch seat.”
“It’s my motorcycle, Tony. You don’t even have a motorcycle license.”
“Like that would stop me.”
Steve lifts a knowing eyebrow and then snaps down the visor of his helmet. Tony does the same and then fastens the collar of his leather jacket. That is something Steve was absolutely unwilling to compromise on, even though he always rides around New York like a maniac, armed with only a T-shirt and sheer luck, helmet laws be damned. Today though, they are both decked out in riding leathers and heavy-duty blue jeans. Tony swings on behind Steve, cinching his hands around Steve’s lean waist. Through the helmet mic he says, “Let’s go, Hot Stuff.”
Steve grins, revs the engine a little, and then smoothly takes off into traffic. They travel due north, slipping over to I-95 and watching the suburbs crawl by. Tony keeps up constant chatter through the helmet mics, and Steve mostly listens, grinning and reveling in the cool autumn air against his skin. He’ll have to put the bike in storage pretty soon, so he needs to savor whatever time he has on the open road.
At New Haven, they pull over so Steve can stretch his legs and Tony can caffeinate. The weather is absolutely perfect—clear blue skies and crisp air, the trees they pass slowly shading toward yellow. Standing next to his bike, watching the line of Tony’s throat as he drinks his coffee, Steve feels contentment settle in his chest like a bird come to roost. Impulsively, he grabs Tony’s arm and swings him into the cradle of his body, careful to steady the hand holding the coffee. Tony looks up with startled eyes, but accepts Steve’s kiss easily enough.
“What was that for?” he says when they part, the coffee on his lips now on Steve’s tongue.
“Nothing,” Steve says with an enigmatic smile, and then pulls Tony in close, burying his nose in helmet-tousled hair. “Just wanted to do it.”
Tony shrugs under Steve’s hands, but he doesn’t pull away. They stay huddled close until Tony’s coffee is gone, and then they head back out again. As they steadily roll north toward Hartford, the air grows damper, and a bank of clouds appears in the distant west. Steve eyes it warily, but he thinks it’s bearing south. They’ll probably be fine.
North of Hartford, the landscape begins to change, suburbia giving way to thick, musty forests, the trees flaming with deeper color as the air grows colder. Tony asks for a pee break in Windsor Locks, and Steve takes advantage of the chance to check his phone. The forecast still calls for clear skies and perfect riding weather. He gives the cloud bank one last wary glance, and then follows Tony into the restroom to take care of business. He should’ve known better than to trust the weather app.
Just north of Springfield, in pretty much the middle of nowhere, the sky opens up and rain pours down on them. After only a minute of riding, Steve pulls over to the side of the road. Behind him, Tony is already shivering in his leathers, his teeth chattering on the mic.
“What should we do? I didn’t pack rain gear.” Steve says through the com, squinting at the sign he can just make out about a mile down the interstate.
“The only thing we can do,” Tony says through his clacking teeth. “Keep going and hope we find civilization.”
“It might be a while. I can’t go at interstate speeds in weather like this.”
“Just go,” Tony says, and clings tighter to Steve. Fifteen grueling, miserable, icy miles later, they hit Northampton and Steve pulls into the first gas station he can find. They both trip inside, frozen and drenched, jeans and leathers clinging uncomfortably. The kid behind the counter takes one look at them and bursts out laughing, though he tries to hide it behind the magazine he’s reading.
Tony glares at the kid, but Steve’s too busy extracting his smartphone to pay much attention. “Please work, please work, please work,” he implores as he hits the home button. Miraculously, the stupid little thing fires up and Steve opens his weather app. Rain for the next six hours. “Fuck me,” he whispers, and plasters a hand to his face. A moment later, his phone makes an ominous spitting noise and the screen goes black. “Double fuck me.”
“Was that an invitation,” Tony whispers in his ear, and Steve jumps. He shoots Tony a sour look and walks up the snickering cashier.
“Is there any place around here we could get a room for the night?”
“Wait, what?” says Tony squelching up behind him. “What about the cabin in Vermont?”
“Rain for the next six hours, Tony. We’re never gonna make it.”
“But the cabin!” Tony says, and Steve turns to look at him quizzically. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Tony’s nearly panicked.
“We can always go next year, Tony. It’s not like Massachusetts is a bad place. Even if they do have the Red Sox.”
The kid spits indignantly at that, but seems resigned. “If you want a place to stay,” he says, whipping out a map from under the counter, “you’re gonna want The Knoll. Mary’ll treat you right.” He walks Steve through the route and then offers them the map free of charge.
Steve thanks him and then it’s back out into the fat, icy rain. Steve can barely see through his visor and behind him, Tony is shivering in a way that doesn’t bode well. He puts on a little more speed than he probably should on wet asphalt, but the streets are virtually deserted. No one wants to be out in the storm and rush hour is still two hours coming.
They find The Knoll far from the center of town, cloistered on the edge of a densely wooded park, and looking positively stodgy in the rain. Steve almost turns around to head for the dilapidated motel they saw three miles back, but Tony’s shivering so hard against his back that he doesn’t dare keep him out in the deluge any longer.
Inside though, Mary’s already waiting for them. “You must be the boys Jerome called me about. He said you’d be coming through. And lucky for you it’s not a busy weekend. You just missed all the local football games and the leaf peeping folks haven’t made their way this far south yet. Now,” she says, bustling them up the stairs before they’ve so much as said hello, “I’ve put out bathrobes for you. You boys get dry and warm and I’ll have lunch up in a jiff.”
“But we didn’t…” Steve starts, and Mary waves her hand.
“Nonsense. I know we’re a B&B, but we do like to take care of people who get the wrong side of the weather like this. You should see the folks who come through when the Nor’easters start blowing.”
She’s out like a shot and Steve and Tony stand gobsmacked in their room. It’s got a kind of New England charm to it: a big warm quilt on a thick mattress, wooden furnishings painted white, a distinctly autumnal hue to every decoration, and the coup de grace, a roaring fireplace in one corner.
Tony squeaks and begins shucking his wet clothes, awkwardly hop-shuffling his way over to the fire as he strips. “Aaaah,” he sighs, as the heat licks at his skin, and Steve grins. At least it hasn’t turned out all bad just yet.
“You want I should help warm you up?” he offers with a smirk and a wink, and Tony’s eyes darken. Then he glances to the door.
“Better wait ’til Mary’s been and gone. Don’t want to give her a free show.”
“No, wouldn’t want that,” Steve says, and begins to shed his own sopping clothes. Despite their good intentions not to scar Mary for life, she comes back in and gives a scandalized gasp just as Steve’s shedding his underwear. The way she plasters her hand over her eyes though, Steve thinks it might not’ve been a mistake.
“Just a second,” he blurts and snatches the bathrobe from the bed, shrugging into it. It fits around his waist just fine, but it’s short on his legs and wrists, and gapes where his shoulders push the seams to their limits. Tony smirks and leers shamelessly, already bundled in his robe and curled in the wingback armchair next to the fire.
“Ok, Mary,” Steve says, face burning, and watches as the old lady uncovers her eyes; the twinkle dancing there says she’s not sorry at all.
“I brought you boys some chowder and hot mulled cider. Eat it while it’s hot. Get yourselves warmed up. Relax. If you’d like something to read, we have a library downstairs. I’d stay in if I were you. The weather’s not likely to let up until late tonight.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Tony says, and Steve’s almost shocked by the respectful tone—he’s heard Tony on the phone with Howard, after all. Mary leaves with a last little giggle, glancing appreciatively at Steve’s chest, and then they’re alone.
“Well that was something.”
“Sure was,” Steve grumbles as he settles into the other armchair. He’s pretty sure Tony can see all the way to France with the way the robe splays, but he doesn’t much care at this point, especially as the fire starts bringing life back to his icy toes.
“We should eat the food,” Tony says, but he makes no move to rise from his melting repose. Steve grunts agreement and sinks further into the chair. The fire crackles merrily and Steve nearly dozes off, his eyes fluttering. Between one blink and the next, there’s a tray of food under his nose, smelling wonderfully of cream and butter and sweet apples. Steve looks up to find Tony smiling fondly at him. “You drove us through all that crappy weather. Think that means you deserve a meal.”
Straightening in the chair, Steve takes the tray and steadies it. Tony brushes a kiss against his forehead and then heads back to his own armchair. “Too bad there’s no love seat,” he says as he settles and pulls up his own tray. “We could’ve snuggled.”
Steve hums and slurps at his chowder. It’s weirdly sweet and savory at the same time, the meat of the clam tinting the cream with something wild and oceanic. The heat goes straight to his chest and he sighs in contentment. “Well,” he says thoughtfully, “we’ve got time to kill. Why don’t you tell me what all plans you had in Vermont? I still can’t believe you wanted to go there.”
“It’s more I thought you’d like it than me wanting to go there,” Tony says into his soup, the steam beading on his goatee.
“But you were the one who said—“
“I know what I said. I just…I’d made plans, you know? Good plans.”
“Yeah, you big lug,” Tony says with a crooked smile. “For you.”
Steve considers his chowder for a moment and then takes a sip of cider. Sweet-tart-cinnamon-cardamom on his tongue and it’s like he’s a kid again, trying to steal a slice of apple pie from the windowsill. “Well,” he says, once the wave of nostalgia has bowled him over, “this isn’t half-bad either. For all that we didn’t plan for it.”
He opens his eyes to catch Tony’s warm glittering stare. “Yeah,” Tony says, nose buried in his own cider. “It’s not too shabby.” And then, because he’s Tony, he also glances significantly at Steve’s crotch and wriggles his eyebrows. “Plus the view’s great.”
Steve grumbles and shifts a little, but he makes no effort to hide himself. It’s nothing Tony hasn’t seen before. In companionable silence, they finish their chowder and cider and defrost in front of the fire. Before he knows it, Steve is drifting off again, fighting the droop of his own eyelids. He’s vaguely aware of Tony rising and rustling in their sodden duffle bag, the clink of zippers and the plop of wet clothes in the bathroom, but he does manage to register it when Tony says, “Son of a bitch.”
“Hmm?” he asks, not bothering to close his eyes.
“Oh, uh. Nothing. Nothing at all. I just…I’ll be right back.”
Steve hears the bathroom door close, but he doesn’t bother to open his eyes. It hardly seems worth the effort. It’s only when he hears Tony’s raised voice that he rouses himself a little, blinking around at the door. Through it, he can only catch about one word out of five, but they sound agitated. “(Muffle rumble muffle) idiot (muffle growl muffle) can’t believe (growl expletive mumble) fucking hell.”
Frowning, Steve rises and heads toward the bathroom door. He’s just raised his hand to knock when Tony says, “Rhodey, please. I’m begging you. This weekend is going all wrong and now I forgot the ring. I forgot the ring, Rhodey and that’s kind of a necessary ingredient to a proposal. Please. I will do anything. Just bring me that fucking ring.”
Steve is caught like a deer in headlights, his heart suddenly thundering in his chest. For a moment, he gapes at the door, his jaw working like a fish’s mouth, but then he raises his hand and knocks. From the bathroom, the conversation suddenly dies off, but Steve can practically feel Tony through the thick oak. After a moment, the lock clicks and the handle turns; Tony appears, looking through the open crack with his eyes huge and terrified.
“Did you, uh…how much of that last part did you hear?”
Reaching through the crack, Steve takes Tony’s phone and clicks the “End Call” button. He tosses it in the general direction of the bed and then gets his arms around Tony, holding tight and breathing in the sharp scent of rain and Tony’s cologne. He barely registers Tony speaking through the pounding of his blood in his ears.
Gasping, Steve turns his face until he can press his lips to Tony’s jaw. Tony’s wriggling in his tight grip, and for a moment Steve eases up, but apparently all he wanted was to swing his legs up, which he does, wrapping his knees over Steve’s hips and hitching himself high.
“There’re not a lot of people I’d let carry me around like this, you know?” he says into Steve’s hair. “Is this you saying yes?”
“Was that what this whole weekend was about?” Steve asks, leaning back just far enough that he can look up into Tony’s eyes.
“There may’ve been rose petals scattered around the cabin in Vermont,” Tony murmurs, blushing faintly pink. He ducks his head a little and peers at Steve through dark lashes, more shy than Steve’s ever seen him. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t actually propose to me yet.”
“Of course my answer’s yes,” Steve says, and turns awkwardly, caught between going to the bed, which would probably feel nicer on his knees, or heading to the fireplace, which will be warm and romantic, but maybe not the most comfortable. In his arms, Tony makes a soft noise in his throat, the hummed pleasure of a cat, and then he leans forward and presses his forehead to Steve’s.
“Fireplace seems nice,” he says, and Steve takes the hint, stumbling toward the woven rug in front of the hearth. He deposits Tony in a disheveled pile, bathrobe gaping scandalously open and hair a mess, and then quickly steals a pile of blankets and pillows from the bed.
Together they tumble on the floor, slow and sweet and warm and occasionally a little awkward because Steve’s knees are not fond of hardwood, even with the carpet. Through it all, Steve keeps his vocabulary limited. “Yes” and “I love you” and “Of course.” Tony is less articulate, but no less eager to express his love to Steve.
Afterward, in a sweaty pile, finally warm and mostly dry, Steve stares into the crackling fire and holds Tony close to his chest. “Did you seriously forget the ring?” he asks, a teasing smile in his voice.
“You knew getting into this that I was a hot mess. Would you really expect any less of me?”
Steve ducks to kiss Tony on the lips and then sinks into the nest of blankets. “No. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Chapter 7: Whiskey Dick
A drunk Steve is a horny Steve.
T plus 1 year 5 months
Tony is drowsing on the couch when a sharp crack wakes him. He blinks around blearily, trying to figure out what caused the sound, but the apartment is silent and dark. It’s late and he hadn’t meant to sleep, but he’d wanted to wait up for Steve. Tony glances at the glowing green numerals of the DVD clock and frowns; speaking of, Steve was supposed to be home almost forty minutes ago. Tony gropes for his phone and checks for texts, but there’s nothing. How unlike Steve.
Another crack. Tony sets aside his phone and wonders if he should go get the bat Steve keeps under the bed or something. That was definitely the sound of something hitting the window, so Tony slowly stands up and creeps closer.
The window he’d been approaching implodes in a spray of glass and a…a fucking brick? What the hell? From outside on the street, Tony hears loud giggling, and his bewilderment and fear quickly transforms to rage. Is this some sort of stupid hate crime? Normally Tony and Steve don’t get hassled in public because Steve’s 6’2” and built like a brick shithouse, but Tony supposes this kind of attack would give someone a chance to run. He gets to the window, carefully stepping between the glass shards, and looks down.
Steve stands on the curb with Bucky and Sam on either side of him, and Natasha further back, doubled over against a streetlight.
“Tony!” Bucky shouts. “Hey look, Steve, it’s Tony!”
Sam shushes him, but they’re all still giggling like idiots. “Tony!” Steve whispers, but it’s not really a whisper. Too loud for that. It’s more like…
“Oh my god, are you all drunk?”
“You’re in trouble!” Sam sing-songs, slapping Steve on the back. The slap sends him stumbling forward and he kind of just folds down on the ground, arms around his stomach as he laughs more uncontrollably.
“I thought you were supposed to be romantic here, Steve,” Nat says, and that sends Steve tripping over himself as he gets to his feet.
“That’s right. That’s right! Tony! Tony, I…uh…” he turns back to his audience. “Guys, what’s romantic?”
“Romeo and Juliet,” Nat quips at once. She looks up at Tony with a sly smirk, and Tony points at her.
“I see you, Romanov. I know exactly what you’re doing.” She only smirks harder as Steve nods hugely and turns back to the window.
“Tony, Tony, wherefore art, um art thou Tony?—“
“I’m right here.”
“No, man. It’s gotta be Tony-o. For the rhythm man.”
“Keep it down out there!”
More inebriated giggling.
“Steve, will you get your ass up here already? The neighbors would like to sleep.”
“Damn right we would.”
Tony had honestly not known that Steve was capable of giggling so much. He isn’t usually quick to laugh, and Tony always feels accomplished when he manages to make Steve even just guffaw. This drunk giggly Steve is new to him, for all they’ve been engaged three months. Normally Steve stops himself at one beer, so this is…an experience.
“Come on, Steve. It’s the middle of January. It’s freezing. Please come inside and send everyone else on their way.”
“I would,” Steve hiss-shouts. “I would. I would come right up, Tony-o—“
“Oh my god.”
“—but I lost my keys. And my phone. And my wallet.”
Tony blinks stupidly down at them all for a moment, Steve looking up with big soft wibbly cow eyes, Sam and Bucky with something like shame, and Nat still with that knowing smirk.
“Romanov, give my fiancée his stuff back.”
“Ruin all the fun, why don’t you, Tony,” Nat says, but her tone is good-natured and she waltzs over to Steve with little fanfare. “I would’ve given them back in the morning.”
“You are a drunk-thief. A thief-drunk. You dreal when you stink,” Steve says, pawing through his wallet with clumsy fingers. “Not cool.”
“Oh, Stevie, honey. I could’ve done so much worse. But don’t worry,” she says, leaning in to kiss Steve’s cheek and sending a completely unfounded vein of jealousy thrumming through Tony’s body. “I’d never let anyone steal your things.”
“You,” Steve says, pointing at Nat and looking at her a bit cross-eyed, “you a pretty dangerous lady. Pretty. And dangerous.”
“Yes, I am. Now go upstairs before your boyfriend has a conniption.”
“And before we start throwing shit,” the downstairs neighbor yells, and all four of them down on the street flinch. Tony watches with half-worry, half-amusement, half-exasperation (too many halves, but Tony is too tired to care) as Steve stumbles his way up the stoop and into the building and then waits impatiently, getting colder all the time in the draft from the window, until the front door rattles its way open.
“Don’t move. Stay right where you are.” Tony didn’t mean to sound quite so testy, but he must’ve because Steve immediately freezes and gives Tony the kicked-puppy face. “There’s glass on the floor and you’re drunk and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Aw, Tony. You’re looking after me.”
“Yes, I am. Now stay there while I clean this up.” Tony picks his way back across the floor and flips on the lights, flinching at the sudden brightness. He’s aware of Steve’s eyes on him, even as he grabs the dustpan, vacuum, and a pair of his leather welding gloves. Gloves on, he carefully starts plucking the larger shards up and putting them in the dustpan, and once there are no large pieces to hand, he plugs in the vacuum and runs it over the carpet several times. Once he’s satisfied, he shines his camera flashlight down on the carpet and looks over every spare inch of where the glass was, checking for stray grit or shards. Satisfied, he stands up from his crouch and turns to find Steve still frozen in the entryway with the door wide open, a dopey grin on his face.
“You’ve got a pretty ass.”
“Thank you, dear. You can come in now. Close and lock the door behind you.”
Tony absently listens to Steve fumbling at the lock while he turns to the larger problem at hand. The window is busted, but it’s the middle of winter; he can’t just leave it like this.
“That was real sexy,” Steve murmurs, and Jesus how did he get so close without Tony noticing. “The way you just cleaned all that up. When we first met, you didn’t even know how to use a vacuum. Now look at you.” And those are Steve’s teeth. Steve’s beautiful perfect teeth gently nibbling at his ear and Steve’s big, broad palms settling over his hip bones and—no! Tony has a job to do.
“Honey, I love you, but you’re distracting me.”
“Kinda the point.” Steve smells of whiskey and his skin is hot where it presses against Tony’s cheek. God, he’s doing the tongue thing. Tony loves the tongue thing.
“We’ve just gotta, um, gotta get a plastic tarp and some tape and a sheet of oh my god Steve, get your hands out of my underwear, your fingers are freezing!”
“Sorry,” Steve says sheepishly, and he backs away, looking down at his bare toes. And now Tony feels like a jerk, because the puppy is back, and really it’s unfair to him that Steve’s eyelashes are so long.
“Just…just stay right there. Hold that thought. I’m gonna get what I need.”
Tony heads into his work room and begins rummaging for supplies, alternately irritated, intrigued, and bemused. He wants to know what brought about this uncharacteristic episode with Steve, and he isn’t opposed to continuing the hanky panky, but at the same time, the whole reason he didn’t go out with all of them in the first place is because he has a major demo presentation tomorrow and he wanted to make sure everything was perfect, including his sleep-schedule. Supplies in hand, he returns to the living room and gets everything where he needs it to be.
“So how come you threw a brick through our window.”
Still looking cowed, and now a little more sober, Steve kicks at the pile of the rug. “Wanted to be romantic. Wanted to do the pebble thing. For you. And the boombox thing. No boombox, though.”
Tony glances back from where he’s taping tarp down over the window frame. “Why would you want to be romantic for me? I don’t get it.”
“’Cause,” Steve says, stubbornly not meeting Tony’s eyes.
Suspicious, Tony glances back at Steve again, and then returns to the window frame. He stretches up on tiptoes to get at the top edge, and suddenly Steve is there pressed up behind him, warm and heavy. Chest to back, pelvis to pelvis. He tapes down the top edge for Tony and then drops his hand to Tony’s bare shoulder. “’Cause,” he says again, and his breath is so hot, his touch so inviting. Tony shivers and tries not to press back into his crotch.
“Can you…” he swallows hard and starts again. “Can you hand me that piece of sheet metal?”
Tony doesn’t turn to watch Steve, but he doesn’t have to. He can feel him, the way he bends down without moving too far away, the way his hand trails down Tony’s arm as he leans over, the way his hip knocks heavily into Tony’s ass as he lifts the sheet metal up again. Once he brings the metal around in front of Tony (conveniently placing Tony in his embrace) he abruptly slumps with all of his weight, draping himself across Tony’s back.
“Steve, honey, I appreciate that you’re horny, but I’ve gotta get this window at least reasonably patched up.”
“Not horny,” Steve murmurs, his hand petting leisurely up and down Tony’s chest. Then he harrumphs. “Well, yes horny. But just, just love you so much, Tony.”
With another frown, Tony goes about wedging the sheet metal into place. He can’t put any nails or screws in the walls to hold it down—apartment regulations—but a few more strips of tape are serviceable enough, and once he’s sure the metal won’t move, he backs it with a sheet of two-inch foam. “Just to keep the chill out,” he murmurs as he gets that taped down as well. Behind him, Steve is getting heavier and heavier, one hand glued to Tony’s chest and the other running up and down the front of his thigh.
Tony looks over the window with a critical eye, nods to himself, and then turns in Steve’s arms. “Okay, Blue Streak. Let’s get to you.”
“Blow job?” Steve says, perking up like an excited puppy. My god, Tony thinks to himself, I’m marrying a golden retriever.
“Water first. Sounds like you had a lot to drink.” He takes Steve by the hand and leads him into the kitchen area, where he gets down one of the large tumblers and fills it to the brim. “Here you go. Drink up, babe.”
Steve pouts prettily, but he takes the glass and downs it all in a single draft, a little bit of water sloshing onto his criminally tight gray T-shirt. “Done,” he says, wiping his mouth in a positively filthy way and fixing Tony with an intent stare. “Blow job now?”
“Another drink, first.”
“Toooony.” As if to emphasize his point, Steve sneaks a hand around to Tony’s ass and pulls him in, squeezing in just that way that makes Tony’s spine electrify. Fumbling more than the first time, Tony refills the glass of water and passes it back to Steve. Again, Steve downs it, and before Tony can really say anything, Steve swoops in and lifts Tony by the ass, hefting him up and stumbling toward the bedroom.
“Steve? Steve, honey, I don’t think this is a good—“
It’s Murphy’s law, really, that sends Steve tumbling down, and Tony only just gets his hand out in time to cup the back of Steve’s head and keep him from whacking it hard against the wood floor of the hallway. They both land winded, Tony sprawling on top of Steve, legs akimbo, and after a moment, they’re both laughing, the bizarre tension of the night somehow broken. Downstairs, their poor neighbor bangs at the ceiling with a broom handle, but that only makes them laugh harder.
Once the giggles subside into occasional breathless chuckles, Tony props himself up on both hands. “You’re a dork,” he says, looking down at Steve’s soft, flushed face.
“You’re a dork.”
“Real mature, honey.” Wincing a little, Tony manages to clamber back to his feet and he pulls Steve up after him. They make their way into the bedroom like teenagers sneaking in after curfew and tumble onto the comforter in a gaggle of limbs. Once down, though, Steve doesn’t make any moves. He lays there on his stomach, arm right over the center of Tony’s chest, eyes on Tony’s face.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, looking away and then back again. “Just, just wanted to be romantic. For you.”
“Yeah, but how come, Steve?”
“’Cause you’re leaving. ‘Cause I’m not good to you. Wasn’t enough.”
It hits Tony in an instant, and suddenly he understands why Steve drank so much, why he’s being so pushy and insistent. “Oh, babe. You know, you know I can say no to them. I’ll say no to them. I don’t have to go.”
“No. No, that’d be dumb. Don’t say no. I’m, I’m being dumb. I’m the dumb one.”
Tony turns so he’s facing Steve and runs a gentle hand through the short hairs on the back of Steve’s head, enjoying the texture of them, scratching lightly until Steve’s eyes droop heavy with pleasure. “You, Steve Rogers, are not dumb. I wish you’d said that this internship was bothering you so much, though. I had no idea.”
“’S’three months, Tony. Three whole months in Denmark, and you’re gonna meet someone who’s smarter and prettier and you’re gonna leave me.”
Helpless in the face of Steve’s very real, if very silly, worry, Tony leans forward and gently kisses his face—each eyelid, nose, each cheek, chin. “I’m not leaving you. Not ever. Want to marry you, remember?”
“But you don’t need me.”
“You don’t need me anymore. I used to take care of you. Do stuff for you. Cleaning. Cooking. Now you can do it all yourself. Don’t need me.”
“Oh, Steve honey.” Tony pulls Steve in closer until his nose is pressed against Tony’s throat. “Of course I need you. I need you like I need water and air. And not because you do stuff for me. I need you because you make me happy. You make me so happy, baby, and I think I have a solution to all of this.”
“Blow jobs?” Steve asks hopefully, and Tony guffaws into Steve’s hair.
“No. They’re nice, but they don’t really fix anything for us. Why don’t you come with me?”
“But Tony, we already—“
“But nothing. We’ll make it work. I’ll think of something. You wanted to do something romantic? Well, I can’t think of much that’s more romantic than larking off to Denmark for three months together.”
Steve frowns up at him, eyes huge and liquid in the dark. “Did you…just say ‘larking?’”
Tony blushes and pouts a little. “So what if I did.”
For a moment longer, Steve holds Tony’s gaze and then buries his face back in Tony’s throat. “Love you,” he whispers.
“Love you, too.” They lay there a long while, Tony gently stroking his hand through Steve’s hair. He watches the way the street light and passing cars throw flashes of yellow and white on the wall, feels the way Steve’s chest rises and falls with each breath, listens to the rustling of sheets and the rattling of the radiator on the other side of the room. He thinks Steve’s fallen asleep, so he slowly disentangles himself to rid Steve of his jeans. At the very least he can be comfortable now, especially given that he’ll probably have a terrible hangover come tomorrow.
But Steve is only mostly asleep. When Tony starts to move, he turns over and looks down through slitted eyes. “Blow jobs now?”
BUT NO ACTUAL SEX! Sorry about that. It just didn't feel appropriate. You can find me for more fanfiction, nerdery, and other sundries on tumblr.
Chapter 8: Deck the Halls
Steve and Tony spend their first Christmas together.
Surprise Hot Mess! Note that this takes place before the previous chapter. Happy belated winter holiday festival thingy. So long as it's up before New Year's, it still counts, right? Special thanks to MusicalLuna for emergency betaing for me and assuring me that I could still write a thing. This is...quite a bit schmoopier than the rest of this series, but I was in that kind of mood.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
T plus 1 year 4 months
Steve resists the urge to pull Tony into his arms and squeeze for the next twenty minutes. Maybe the Stark family had done other things. Maybe…
“Gingerbread houses? Popcorn garlands? Cookie decorating?”
“Mom always hired a decorator to do the house over, and you know I never cooked. The holiday parties were okay, I guess. There was usually a cool band or pianist or something. Mom let me have a little champagne.”
Steve frowns into his stew and hesitates, unsure if these descriptions are neutral or jaded with a careful veneer of disaffection. If they’re neutral, that’s one thing. But if Tony is bitter about the holidays and hiding it, that’s another. It’s their first Christmas together as a couple—last year their relationship had been too new and they’d decided to do their own thing—and that means putting together a bunch of family traditions to try and make it work. Steve had always thought this would be fun—he’d liked doing it with Peggs and her British Christmas—but from what Tony’s describing, there’s not much they can pull in from his side. Oh god…
“Is, are, um, are your parents expecting us? At one of these parties?”
“I doubt it. I’m still in black sheep land, and I think they’re maybe going to Cancun or something.”
Tony shrugs and slurps more stew. His mood is still opaque to Steve, and that makes this all harder. In the course of normal life, Tony is usually so open about everything, almost too open, but when it comes to his family, it’s like a slick plastic wall drops down, imposing a buffer space at least three feet in every direction. Steve’s honestly not sure if Tony’s even told his parents yet about their engagement, and he’s not sure how he feels about that. It’s a long engagement, in any case, so there’s time. There’s still time.
“Well, um, Bucky extended an invitation to do holiday stuff with his family. His mom’s Jewish and his dad’s Catholic, so you’d get a mix of stuff there. We could pick one or the other. Or there’s Sam. Or maybe Rhodey?”
Another noncommittal hum. “Or we could just do the two of us?”
Tony’s face lifts a little, and he glances up, a smidge hopeful. “I’d like that. Just us. For this first one.”
“Okay. Okay, we can do that. And do you want to do Christmas? I know you’re not religious or…”
“Yes. Christmas. I’ll even…if you want to go to Mass, I’d go. I mean…”
They haven’t been this awkward around each other in months. Frozen only a moment, Tony laughs a little, and then louder. “I don’t really know how this goes. Do we make a list?”
“Yes! Yes, let’s make a list! Lists are a Christmas thing. Anything you want to do. Or try.”
Steve writes out a list of every Christmas activity he can think of and hands it off to Tony so he can pick the things he’d like to try. Tony still hasn’t really outlined what Christmas was like for him as a kid, and the activities he’s picked out feed more of Steve’s suspicions that Tony’s holidays have been pretty bleak, even before he was snipped out of his family’s lives. Tony’s picked out tree-trimming, caroling, cookie making, gingerbread house building, lights on their balcony, the local Christmas parade, Mass, Christmas goose, volunteering at the soup kitchen, and presents on Christmas morning. Looking at it all, Steve feels suddenly overwhelmed. After his mom passed, his Christmas celebrations had inevitably been with Bucky, and for that, usually he just brought a casserole. His only Christmas decoration has been a fake tabletop tree that came pre-decorated.
But he wants this Christmas, their first together as a couple, their first as two people engaged to be married, to be special, so he goes all in. He writes up a game plan and presents it to Tony, outlining each step with military precision.
Next Saturday finds them at a craft store, debating what kind of tree would be best. They’re on a limited budget, which in some ways helps. All the real glass ornaments are right out, and after inspecting the LED light strings, Tony declares he can make something comparable with scraps from his studio. In the end, Steve buys a few packs of pretty origami paper, two pairs of skinny scissors, and a pack of wire hooks. They’re really going to do this the old-fashioned way. The tree is a little bit tougher to come to a consensus on, but after some debate, they choose real instead of fake and settle on a little four-foot spruce (“I am not climbing a ladder to put the star on, you freakish giant,” Tony declares), grab a base for it, and awkwardly haul it home on the T.
Decorating goes so smoothly Steve is almost suspicious. Tony has a knack for the geometry of six-pointed snowflakes and promptly snips out two dozen intricate patterns while Steve folds origami cranes and balloons and pinwheels, all of which go up on the branches, along with Tony’s makeshift LED strand. They top the thing with a metal star punched from scrap copper. It all looks hideously mismatched and folksy, and Steve declares it’s exactly what a tree ought to be. Tony looks disbelieving, so Steve whips up some rock spiders and forces Tony down onto the rug, where he wraps him in a blanket and force feeds him cookies while The Santa Clause plays on TV. Another spindly light strand is wrapped around the iron bars of their balcony, winking cheekily in the Boston snow.
“It’s hideous though, right?”
“Tony, it’s super ugly, but it’s our super ugly tree. We made it together. That’s got to count for more than looks, right?”
Mollified, Tony settles back into Steve’s lap and sips at his rock spider, lips coming away dressed with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
Right up until it’s not. A week later, Steve comes home ready for another weekend of the Christmas list to find Tony standing in front of the tree, crying.
“Honey? Honey, what’s going on?”
Tony gestures to the tree, which, now that Steve’s looking, is a lot worse for wear. Half its needles have made their way to the floor and the rest are a sickly shade of brown. The paper snowflakes, which at first had looked so crisp, now wilt downward with exposure to humidity from the tree stand and heat from the radiator. Steve’s origami has held out a little more sturdily, but in the sparse branches, the little cranes now mostly look lonely.
“I killed it,” Tony whispers, reaching out to touch a forlorn snowflake, but yanking his hand back at the last.
“Oh, honey. You didn’t kill it. It…this kind of thing happens with real trees. They’re already dying when you buy them, and sometimes they turn brown before Christmas gets here. We…probably should’ve given it food, or something. I think you’re supposed to give them food. Shoot. I didn’t think of it when we were out last weekend.”
“They die?” Tony’s shock is genuine, his horror written across his young face.
“Did…did you not know?”
“I didn’t even think… I thought it was kind of like a houseplant or… Oh my god, I’m an idiot.”
“No, honey. You’re not an idiot.” But all of Steve’s attempts to soothe Tony only seem to make him cry harder. They wind up on the couch, Steve holding Tony and rubbing his shoulders until the sobs subside into hiccups.
“What do you want to do? This…we’re in this together, but I want you to be happy. Should we—”
“Just throw it out. It’s ruined. By Christmas, it’s just gonna look like a stick.”
Tony nods, but never meets Steve’s eyes. He’s so damn young. Of course, Steve is young, too, but he had to grow up quickly, what with his mom dying at seventeen and his two years in the military. Sometimes on bad nights, he wonders if he and Tony are moving too fast, if they’ve jumped the gun, if Tony will lose interest and leave him, and moments like this feed those fears.
But he loves Tony, wants to watch Tony grow and change, and to grow and change right alongside him. So he stands and carefully removes all the decorations, trying not to wince when Tony retreats to his workshop, a closed door between them.
There are two ways this can go. Steve can let it sour the whole holiday for both of them, or he can double down on the rest of the list. One battle lost does not mean the war is lost, too. Once the tree is out in the trash heap, Steve returns, digs out his little table tree, decorates it with their homemade bits and bobbles, and draws up an even better plan for the coming weekend. Cookies and the parade. Easy enough.
Of course, even all the planning in the world cannot compensate for Tony’s overenthusiasm in the kitchen. After four hours of mixing and rolling and cutting and trying not to lose it each time Tony deviates from the recipe (“For science!” can only be cute so many times) Steve stares mournfully up at the screaming smoke detector and dumps the carbonized batch of sugar cookies into the sink where he can douse them with water. On another tray sitting on the cooling rack, the chocolate cookies sit in a congealed lump—in the heat of the oven, their edges ran together, resulting in a blackened outer rim and a gooey center that’s probably not fit for human consumption. Tony is at the kitchen table, morosely transferring the gingerbread house design onto dough that is very nearly the consistency of sand. From below, their neighbor has taken a broom to the ceiling and is resolutely thumping out a complaint, presumably about the smoke detector.
Steve sighs and begins cracking windows, wafting the cookie sheet through the air to clear the smoke.
“I’m sorry, Steve.”
“No, it’s fine. I know…” Steve has to pause and take a deep breath. He can do this. For Tony, he can do this. “I know all this is new to you. Just, in the future, keep in mind that baking is chemistry, and chemistry—”
“Requires precision. I know. And I can be precise! I’m precise all the time! I just…” He doesn’t finish his sentence and instead peels away the template, biting his lip when half the dough comes with.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter. This one’s ruined, too.”
“That’s okay. It’s…it is what it is. Maybe we’ll try pie again for Christmas dinner. You did good with the pie crust last time.”
Glancing at the clock, Steve resists the urge to sigh. The Christmas parade starts in an hour and they’re not even out the door. “How about we just…leave cleanup for later and head out? They’ll have cookies at the parade, and hot almonds. Those are good. You’ll like them.”
Shaking his head, Tony stands and walks the tray to the sink, grabbing a spatula to scrape the failed gingerbread into the trash. “No. I, I don’t think I can… I’m tired, Steve. Can we just not go? Or you can go if you want, but I’m just… gonna tinker with that one match-game app.”
Tony’s been programming smartphone games to make his income while he works through graduate school, and half his December has been bug fixes to holiday specials. Sometimes he doesn’t come to bed until after midnight, looking hollow-eyed and gaunt.
“No, Tony. No. I’m not gonna go without you. Let’s just… clean up and order a pizza, okay? We can always watch the parade highlights on YouTube or something.”
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.”
The whole week is tense. They only have one more weekend between now and Christmas, and Steve feels more pressure than ever to have at least one of these damn activities succeed, especially with Tony wandering through the apartment like Marley’s ghost. At this point, Steve’s so desperate that he’s watching YouTube videos on Christmas goose during his breaks at work (and sometimes while he’s on the clock, too.) He’s been agonizing for days over whether he should give Tony a crash course on Catholic Mass, with all its little intricacies and rituals, or if he should just hope for the best at midnight on Christmas Day. The caroling seems like it ought to be easy enough. A group of Steve’s coworkers are going out Thursday night to sing in Copley Square, with warm drinks to follow, so Tony’s going to meet them there to join. Soup kitchen Christmas Eve Day is also easy enough. Show up. Do what they’re told. Leave. And then…
“Presents.” Steve says out loud, looking down in horror at the list. When the fuck is he even going to go shopping? What does Tony want? It’s their first Christmas! Steve has to resist the urge to double over on his sudden stomach ache. “How could I forget…”
Sweating and wracked with nerves, he finishes his break with no game plan for this, the most important part, and returns to his cubicle. Around two o’clock, Carol stops by with some documents and glances down at him. “Are you feeling okay? You’re sweating up a storm. And you look pale.” Before he can answer, she presses a hand to his forehead. “Holy shit, Steve. That’s a hell of a fever.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he mumbles, resisting the urge to groan at the brief relief her cool hand had brought. “I feel…” His stomach churns, rebels, and he only just has time to turn and evacuate it into his waste bin.
Carol is a stalwart sort and waits patiently until Steve emerges from under his desk. “Home. Right now. I don’t want to see you again until the doctor gives you the all clear.”
“No buts. If I see you before New Year’s, it’ll be too soon. Flu’s no laughing matter, Steve.”
Moving at the ramshackle pace of a zombie, Steve packs up his work and heads home, only pausing to poke his head into Fury’s office to let him know what’s going on.
By the time he makes it to the apartment, he’s ready to fall over. He hopes Tony isn’t home, wanting to delay the inevitable disappointment, but his luck clearly was used up long before December rolled around, because Tony’s on the sofa clicking away at his laptop.
“Steve?” he says, shock and fear clear on his face.
Steve’s barely got a groan for a response, but Tony sees quick enough what the problem is.
“Oh my god, you look like death warmed over. Are you sick, babe? Come here.”
Tony’s hands are always chilly, and when they touch Steve’s face, he begins shivering uncontrollably. “You’re burning up. Oh my God, Steve, get in bed. No, I take that back. Hot shower for all that sweat, and then those fuzzy flannel pajamas, and get your ass in bed. I’m gonna warm up some…something.”
“No buts!” Tony’s words echo Carol’s and nonsensically, Steve starts laughing until he feels his stomach heave with threat. All the way to the bathroom, Tony fusses over him, undoing his buttons, unzipping zips, cajoling and sweet talking in turn. By this point, the fever haze has reduced Steve’s ability to function to approximately the level of a slug, so he stands under the water until Tony pops in thirty minutes later and forces him out again, drying him and dressing him in his pajamas.
Bundled off to bed, he drifts in and out of consciousness, feeling like his head has completely detached from his body. Every time he opens his eyes, though, Tony is there. He provides everything Steve could possibly ask for and many things he wouldn’t, including but not limited to hot tea, cold water, ice cubes, soup, barf bucket, the entire first-aid kit, and a laptop open to WebMD.
Steve’s basically useless, burning at a steady 101 and spending most of his illness under a layer of comforters and sweat. He keeps the bed so hot that Tony ends up dragging in their air mattress and sleeping there rather than sweating to death as well. Christmas is a distant mess in his mind, but every time he tries to bring it up, Tony shushes him and presents him with a laptop and a loaded Netflix queue. It’s nice to not think about anything. So nice.
One day, Steve wakes up and realizes he feels much more coherent. And also much less like he’s going to lose the first non-liquid thing he tries to eat. Glancing out the window, he guesses it’s midday, but given that there are flurries flying, it’s difficult to be sure. Disgusted by his own sweaty body, Steve digs himself out from the heavy mound of blankets—they’ll need to wash everything after this mess—and snatches his bathrobe from its hook in the bedroom closet.
He has every intention of showering, but stops short in the hallway, confronted by a scene he’d never expected: Tony sits at the kitchen table with Sam, Nat, Bucky, Rhodes, and Pepper, all of them in hideous Christmas sweaters, playing cards. Red and green taper candles are lit along their fake fireplace, and there’s a mound of presents under the table. Something is simmering on the stove, and for the first time since he fell ill, Steve can smell properly enough to know it smells amazing.
“Steve! You woke up! I’m so glad!” Tony rushes from his seat to take Steve’s elbow and support him. “You’re probably still sick, so no overdoing it, but we were just about to have Sam’s soup and open presents.”
“Yeah, honey. You slept clear through to Christmas practically.”
“It’s Christmas?” Steve glances at all of their friends fathered round the table. “But you all… Your families.”
“Tony called us up and told us what happened,” Bucky said, slinging his arm around Nat’s shoulders. “We didn’t want Christmas to be a complete bust for either of you, so we shuffled some stuff around, rearranged some family stuff. We’re not gonna make you suffer through Christmas alone in bed with no special food or presents or nothing, Steve.”
Struggling for words, Steve allows himself to be led to the couch, where Tony promptly burritos him with a blanket again. The others all carry packages over while Sam ladles out bowls of soup. Nat disappears and reappears with a tin of cookies, courtesy of Clint, who couldn’t get out of Christmas with his brother.
“You guys didn’t… I don’t…” He’s completely overruled. The soup is good, albeit completely lacking any sort of Christmas tradition. The chilies, onions, and ginger in it do wonders to make him feel cleared up and warm.
And then the presents get doled out. A small mountain appears before him and he feels queasy with both residual illness and apprehension. “I didn’t have a chance to—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Nat says, smiling sharply and slapping him on the back so hard he nearly head-butts his own knees. He knows better than to try and say anything again. Thankfully, the gifts are all more or less gag gifts: a hot water bottle, a thermometer, a huge selection of fancy instant ramen from the local Asian market, and a bottle of homemade fire cider. It’s clear his friends are sending him a message and that message is “Get well soon, dumbass.” Conspicuously, there’s no gift from Tony, but Steve doesn’t dare ask about that after the disastrous way all their holiday plans had gone.
They play another round of cards before Steve begins to feel exhausted again, and then Tony clears everyone out like they’re a pack of vermin. Night is falling outside, the snow is coming down harder, and Tony switches on It’s a Wonderful Life, rearranging Steve so he’s laying down with his head pillowed on Tony’s lap and his feet wrapped and toasty.
“This movie’s supposed to be traditional. Sam promised me.”
“It is,” Steve murmurs, mush-mouthed and too heavy to move anymore.
“I know you’re about to fall asleep, but I just wanted…”
Tony’s hand appears in front of his nose bearing a small wrapped box. Steve nearly wants to cry. This all turned into such a mess.
“Babe, I didn’t manage to go Christmas shopping. I’m sorry I ruined the whole holiday for you.”
“Ruined? What about how I fucked up the cookies or killed the tree. I was terrified I was ruining it for you.”
“I just wanted to give you a nice Christmas. You seemed so…I don’t know. It seemed like a sore spot.”
“It kind of is. Christmas was never about family and friends with my parents. It was about schmoozing and making up for emotional shortcomings with way-too-expensive presents. I never liked it much. But I’ve seen enough cheesy holiday movies to know that the spirit of the season is being together with the ones you love. That’s all I really wanted, Steve, and I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner. I’m sorry you got so stressed out, and I’m sorry you got sick.”
“Not your fault.” Steve murmurs, taking the box but not daring to unwrap it. Tony plows on, now taking on the more familiar cadence of overexuberance that Steve loves so much.
“But once I started thinking about that, I thought ‘Well, that’s easy enough.’ Being with the ones you love, I mean. So I just called everyone up and told them what was going on, and they all, well, you saw. And it’s dumb, but it really, it really meant a lot to me. That they’d move all their schedules and come and be with us just because I asked. Steve, it’s…it’s the best damn Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten, falling in love with you and getting to know your friends and making this family together. I can’t thank you enough for it.” Tony’s crying a little, his voice choked and tears trickling down his cheeks, but he’s happy. His smile stretches from ear to ear.
Even though his arms feel like lead, Steve has no choice. He drops the box and lunges for Tony, pulling him into a tight hug on the sofa, squeezing as tight as his crummy, flu-leveled body can manage.
“Thank you calling them all. For bringing them. I’m so glad, so glad it made you happy to have them here.” They hold each other and cry a bit while the angel on the TV recounts George Bailey’s early life, but finally Tony pulls back and presents the box again.
“Tony, I shouldn’t—”
“Just open it. Please?”
Steve sighs and rips off the paper, reveling a velvety jewelry box. He carefully pops it open, guilt eating at him for having failed to get Tony anything, but inside is not any glinting gold or silver. Instead, it’s a small square of post-its. Frowning, Steve squints down at the first one. It reads: IOU one tray of Xmas cookies J. The one after that: IOU one back rub, 30 min. IOU fresh-cut flowers. IOU dinner at restaurant of your choice. IOU one xtra special blow-job supreme. IOU one week of cleaning duties. IOU 10 “I love you”s. The entire coupon book—because that’s what it is—is chock full of sweet little favors, tiny ways in which Tony is willing to show his love and care to Steve.
“Do you like it?”
Wibbly again, and now so near sleep, Steve has to blink away the tears before he answers, “I love it.” He glances up at Tony’s hesitant face. “In fact, I love it so much I’m going to cash this one in right now.”
He presents Tony with the “I love you” ticket and Tony’s vulnerable, beautiful smile spreads across his face.
“I love you,” he says, kissing Steve’s forehead. “I love you.” His nose. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Cheeks, chin, lips. Under Tony’s whispered “I love you”s, Steve drifts off into a peaceful sleep.