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that was flirting?

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It started with Tim.

Steve had nothing against Tim. Tim seemed like a really nice guy. He had a friendly smile and warmly introduced himself to Steve when he tripped on his own half tied laces and tumbled out of Tony Stark's room at 7.30am.

His shirt was on inside out and his hair looked like he'd gone a few rounds with a malfunctioning hairdryer. Even without such obvious visual hints Steve would've had no doubt as to what had been going on the previous evening- night- morning- whatever; the dorm walls just weren't thick enough to muffle some things.

Tim was a really nice guy. He was friendly. Then Steve never came across him again.

So Steve could not for the life of him figure out why he disliked him so damn strongly.

***

“What's wrong with your face?” Sam asked him a week later as they took a break from “studying” - staring in despair at their books and enthusiastically ignoring the due dates of their various assignments - and vegetated in the nearest park they could find.

“There's nothing wrong with my face,” Steve resisted the urge to scowl and completely counteract his previous statement. “The sun’s too bright.”

He wrenched his gaze from where Tony was flirting with some guy at an icecream stand near the park’s entrance. Sam was looking at him in that you're talking shit but I can't be bothered calling you out on it right now way he'd perfected at some point in the last semester.

“Hey,” Bucky said, flopping to the grass beside Steve and somehow knocking Sam’s bag flying as he did so. Sam sent him a withering look which Bucky actively ignored, but his grin grew a little wider. “What's with Steve’s face?”

Steve groaned and buried said face in his hands.

“What did you boys do to upset our beloved Steven this time?”

Steve's head shot up and he glared at Tony, something in his stomach turning.

“There's nothing wrong with his face,” Sam informed him helpfully.

“I can see that,” Tony said, looking at Steve over the top of his sunglasses. Sam and Bucky exchanged a look that Steve couldn't read, and Tony offered him an icecream. “Cheer up, have a cone.”

“Hey! That was supposed to be for me,” Bucky sounded offended, but he looked fairly happy as he settled back in the grass with his eyes closed. He wasn't going to be so happy when he realised Sam was quietly piling grass and daisies on his chest, though.

“In that case,” Steve took the cone and nodded at Tony in thanks as he joined them in lounging.

“Is he flipping me off?” Bucky asked. “Sam, tell me if he flips me off.”

“He isn't, but I am.”

“Children, please,” said Tony, casually flinging an arm around Steve’s shoulders and diving into his own icecream, successfully managing to get a dollop of the stuff on the tip of his nose as he did so.

Steve looked away, Tony's arm seeming to burn where it made contact with his skin. What the hell was wrong with him? He didn't recoil when Bucky or Sam hugged him. And it wasn't like he didn't like Tony, he'd been one of the first friends he made at college despite sharing none of his classes.

So what was it?

Steve was saved from his thoughts by an angry squawk from Bucky. He looked over just in time to see Bucky retaliate by tearing a handful of grass from the ground and thrust it down the neck of Sam’s shirt.

Tony snickered as Sam retaliated to the retaliation, saying something that sounded like, “Ah, young love,” under his breath.

Steve frowned at him, a trill of something making his nerves jangle, but Tony didn't elaborate further.

What the hell was going on?

***

Steve had no idea what the next one’s name was. Neither, for that matter, did Tony.

He came across them in the hallway on his way back from a nighttime drawing class.

Well, more accurately, he came across them plastered to his door and making frankly obscene noises, entangled to such an extent that it took Steve a moment to figure out that one of the figures was actually Tony.

Steve wasn't really sure he wasn't seeing things for the first few moments, but then Tony let out a distressed sound and Steve’s face flushed a deep red. Yep, definitely real. Something in his gut twisted nastily.

Steve sighed, trying to dampen down the feeling. He'd had a long day. He just wanted to go to bed.

They weren't moving.

Steve fiddled with the strap of his bag and cleared his throat.

They still didn't seem to have noticed him.

“Tony,” Steve said, fully aware of how very strained and awkward he sounded. Still nothing, so he raised his voice. “ Tony.

Tony and his flavor of the week -- and Steve winced internally for thinking of the man like that, what the hell -- pulled apart with a fairly unsettling slick sound.

“Steve! Hi,” Tony said, his voice hoarse. “Whassup?”

Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He glanced at the new guy. Tall, slim, fair hair, obliviously nuzzling Tony's neck. The usual.

“You're kind of on my door,” Steve explained, as patiently as he could. Let this day end , he pleaded to whoever would hear him.

“Oh,” Tony frowned, then laughed, and Steve felt a pang of warmth at his friend’s gently baffled expression despite himself. “That's why my key wasn't working. Sorry.”

Steve helpfully gestured towards Tony’s own door, and the two men vacated his doorway.

“Hey, Steve,” Tony said, causing him to turn back around from unlocking his door. Steve raised his eyebrows when he didn't immediately speak. Then; “Thanks.”

Steve didn't get the chance to ask what he was being thanked for before Tony was unceremoniously yanked into his room and the door was slammed shut behind him.

Steve felt himself bristling and tried to shake it off as he got ready for bed. How rude the other guy had been, the thought of the two of them against his door, the inevitability that was having to hear all about it when Tony was needled for details in class or over lunch or--

Look, it wasn't the sleeping around thing. Steve wasn't born in the 18th century, that never bothered him. But there was just something about having to hear about every guy that Tony ever brought back and, well, defiled, that absolutely sickened Steve.

He caught sight of himself in his bathroom mirror as an unpleasant thought occurred to him, and watched as the colour drained out of his face.

No. It couldn't be. It wasn't because it was two guys. It couldn't be. Steve wasn't like that. Steve was a decent person. Steve--

Winced and had to look away every time Tony flirted with or touched or kissed another man.

Well.

Shit.

***

“Do I think you're what?

Steve flinched at the too-loud, incredulous  yelp that vibrated through his phone. “Sam, don't make me ask again, I'm seriously--”

“No, man, you're not-- where are you? I'll be right there. This is ridiculous. I can't believe--”

The call dropped before Steve could get another word in. He sighed and rubbed his temples with his fingertips, trying to ease the headache that had come with his tormented lack of sleep.

Moments later a loud clunk indicated the door had been unlocked from the other side. Bucky let himself in the room already rolling his eyes and berating Steve under his breath, which Steve was mildly offended by considering he was the one who had just picked the lock to Steve’s room.  

Although it was always impressive that Bucky could do that one-handed.

“Sam called you? ” Steve winced at the tone of his own voice. There was a reason he'd called Sam and not Bucky, because if his problem was what he thought it was he knew for certain Bucky would be hurt.

“He's on his way. I was nearer,” Bucky said, dropping heavily onto the bed beside Steve and launching him into the air a couple of centimetres. “And you're not homophobic, Steve, fucking hell.”

Steve flinched, his face burning. “I don't -- Buck, I don't know how else to explain it. Every time I see T-- a guy… with another guy it makes me,” he made a vague gesture with his hands.

Bucky laughed. Steve glared at him. Bucky shook his head and laughed again.

“Steve. Steven. Stevey boy. M’lad,” Bucky said, putting his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Bigots don't feel bad for their bigotry.”

“And you're not a goddamn bigot,” Sam said, kicking the door shut behind him and standing in front of Steve, arms crossed defiantly across his chest. Bucky gestured to him as if to say see?

“You don't--” Steve started, but in the time it took him to say those words his friends shared a look, Sam nodded, Bucky lurched to his feet and they met in the middle to kiss, Sam tangling his hands in Bucky’s hair like it wasn't the first time this had happened.

“You,” Steve said, and they broke apart. Sam was visibly trying not to laugh. “ How long.

“Couple months,” Bucky shrugged. “We were wondering how long it'd take you to notice, but this was more important.”

“Any feelings of outright disgust and hatred spring up just then?” Sam asked, squeezing Bucky’s good shoulder then crossing his arms. “Sudden urge to vomit or hit anything!”

Steve shook his head slowly.

“Well, there you have it. No homophobia here,” Bucky flung himself back onto the bed, Sam sitting on Steve’s other side.

“So let's discuss the actual problem here,” Sam began delicately.

“The ‘actual problem’ being the perpetual hard-on you have for Tony Stark,” Bucky explained, not-so-delicately.

Steve squawked and stared at Bucky in horror. “I don't-- he doesn't-- I,” his words sputtered to a halt and he just gaped at his friend like a fish.

“Oh my god,” Sam said in wonder. “He legitimately didn't realise.”

“Steve,” Bucky said, suddenly gentle. Steve looked at him without really seeing him, his mind and heart whirring in unison. It was true that every time he had been feeling weird it had been around Tony. It was true that he felt very...attached to his friend, and not in the same way he was attached to the others.

“Steve,” Bucky repeated, realising he hadn't heard him the first time around. “You're as queer as a two dollar bill and always have been.”

“James,” Sam scolded. Bucky just laughed.

“What? It's true.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“True,” Bucky said, nodding sagely. Sam rolled his eyes.

“How on earth could you possibly have expected me to realise you were together,” Steve muttered distantly.

“Now we know that you didn't even know you have a crush the size of a small planet on Tony, I don't really know either,” Bucky groaned.

Sam looked at him. “That was an overly convoluted sentence.”

Bucky shot him a finger gun and they lapsed into silence.

“So,” Steve said eventually, once he'd collected his thoughts. “I guess I'm… Jealous. And… Bi.”

“That's the spirit,” Sam said warmly, at the same time Bucky nudged him with his elbow and said “No shit.”

“Well… Now what?”

Neither had any smart response this time.

***

Steve had briefly hoped that identifying the unpleasant sensation as jealousy rather than his being an intolerant ass would have made his life infinitely easier.

That naive dream was thoroughly obliterated when Tony passed him in the hallway, grabbed him by the hand and twirled himself under Steve’s arm before detaching himself and sauntering off with a laugh.

Steve literally dropped his folder as he watched him go, and didn't actually notice until Sam stooped to pick it up, shoved it into Steve’s chest, and sighed pointedly.

“This is going to suck,” Sam muttered.

“Tell me about it,” Steve said, still watching Tony go.

“C’mon, shmuck,” Sam grabbed him by the shoulders and began to steer him away. “Let's get to class before you go all gooey on me.”

***

Another inconvenience was the fact that he couldn't stop thinking back over his relationship with Tony.

From the moment he had introduced himself when they first moved in, to dancing badly together at a friend’s flat-warming party, to the time a cuddly-drunk Tony had kissed Steve on the cheek while he half carried him back to his room, to the numerous movie nights where the other boy had ended up curled against his shoulder or leaning against his leg on the floor or when they threw popcorn at each other to try and catch it in their mouths…

And he'd almost dropped Tony when he kissed his cheek. He'd blushed and looked away when they had shared a glance for too long. He'd laughed awkwardly and hugged quickly and shrugged off advances that, oh hell, he hadn't realised were advances until it was too late.

It had to be too late.

If Steve had ever had any chance with Tony to begin with, it had been and gone months before.

***

Left, right, left, right, left, right…

Steve really needed to get an iPod or something, because running with nothing but his own thoughts for company had a habit of being incredibly dull.

He wasn't usually a frequent runner, but the extended periods away from his room and the vigorous exercise was a very good way to distract himself from thinking about-

Ah, hell. Now he was thinking about him again.

Steve stopped to catch his breath and looked around him, squinting in the dull glow of the street lights. He realised with a sudden grimace that he had absolutely no idea where he was. All the buildings in this part of town were indistinguishable from each other in their unremarkableness, and he didn't recognise the street names either.

He automatically reached for his phone before remembering that he'd let Sam borrow it to call his mom just before he'd left the building.

Well, he reasoned, he must have just taken a wrong turn or two somewhere down the line. If he could just find someone and ask them to point him back to the college, he could easily make his way from there.

Only problem with this plan being that this was America, nobody walked anywhere, and nobody went running at this time of night unless they were running from something.

“Well, crap,” Steve hummed to himself. He wasn't particularly worried about being out alone at night; that last growth spurt he'd had had seen to that fear, and this wasn't a bad area. Or rather, the general area he hoped he was still in wasn't a bad area.

He decided to stop thinking about it and walked back the way he'd come, pausing at the first corner he arrived at. He frowned. None of this was familiar either. Had he really been concentrating so hard on not thinking about his problems that he'd completely blanked his surroundings?

Apparently. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, looking up and down each street again in case he'd missed something the first time round.

Nothing but closed shops, bars and restaurants. The odd apartment leaked light a few floors up, but that was no use.

He hesitated then chose to continue going straight ahead, cursing his own lack of concentration for getting him in this mess.

As he crossed the road, he felt something land on his head and groaned.

“No,” he told the raindrop hopefully, but it didn't listen and a heartbeat later the heavens were opening and he was drenched.

It was halfway through a stream of muffled swears that he noticed something: a shadow appearing from a side road and walking briskly towards a door on the opposite side of the street.

“Hey,” Steve called, squinting through the rain and resisting the urge to shake himself like a sodden golden retriever. The figure paused for a moment, key in the door, to allow him to catch up, despite that meaning extending the time they had to spend getting positively drenched by the downpour.

“Steve?”

“Tony?” he said, riddled with disbelief and vaguely aware that somewhere in the distance there was a mischievous God of fate flipping him off and going ‘ nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh ’.

“What are you - wait, no, come on, get inside, what the fuck is this weather,” Tony heaved the door open and ushered him inside.

Steve blinked to adjust to the sudden brightness as Tony turned to secure the door. They were standing in a well lit, beautifully tiled hallway with excessively extravagant doors lining the walls on either side and an honest to god golden elevator lying in wait at the far end.

“Shut up,” Tony muttered.

“I didn't say anything,” said Steve, well aware that there was a steadily growing puddle of rainwater collected around him and doing his best to ignore it.

He then realised that Tony hadn't been wearing his jacket zipped up, had been wearing a white shirt, had also been soaked to the skin, and immediately returned his attention to the puddle underneath him that was beginning to resemble the mess that was his brain.

“Look,” Tony said, heading for the elevator. The embarrassment in his voice tugged Steve’s gaze back from the floor and for want of any better options he followed his friend. “I wanted to stay in student accommodation, but my parents wanted me to stay in this place. Happy medium. I come here when I miss curfew or need to think or… not be elsewhere.”

“Hey, no,” Steve belatedly realised Tony had mistaken his averted eyes for judgement. “Tony, what the hell, not judging you, honestly. I was actually just going to ask you where we are and what you were doing out this late, but I guess you've answered that second part already.”

Tony blinked at him, stabbing a button in the wall and - when had they gotten into the elevator? - then his mouth turned up at the corner. “You're lost?”

“...a little,” Steve admitted as their floor dinged.

“Come on,” Tony rolled his eyes, placing a steady hand on Steve’s back and steering him out of the elevator. “Let's find you a towel.”

Steve's eyes widened as the room revealed itself. “Is this entire floor…?”

Tony disappeared for a moment and returned with a couple of brand new towels that probably cost more than most people made in a week.

“This entire building,” Tony corrected, not looking Steve in the eye.

Steve let out a low whistle and accepted the towel.

“Actually - hell, use the shower. The pressure here is far better than our place. Go on, I'll see if I can find something you can change into.”

Steve found himself herded into a bathroom that was nicer than any bathroom had the right to be before he had a chance to speak. He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

This wasn't the usual Tony. He was awkward, his movements jerky, he had barely looked at Steve since they'd come inside. Steve, who always felt welcome -- if shamefully smitten -- in Tony's presence, felt like he was intruding.

“Tony?” Steve called, once he'd showered and dressed in a slightly too tight t-shirt and too short sweatpants that had appeared on the counter.

“Hey,” Tony sat up from where he'd been lounging back on the couch, abandoning the act of disembowelling something small and complicated with a screwdriver. His smile was still sharp, but there was more of the Tony Stark he knew in there than before.

“Look,” Steve said, at the same time Tony began to speak. Tony motioned for Steve to continue with a hand smudged with grease. “I feel really bad for intruding, so just point me back at our halls and I'll get out of your hair.”

Something in Tony's face fell. “You're not intruding, I'm just,” he paused to gesture around him. “All this. It's not me. I mean, it's not all there is to me. But when people see it that's pretty much all I become to them. And, like… your opinion means a lot to me. I didn't want that to change.”

Steve felt heat rise to his cheeks. “It hasn't, Tony. It'd take a lot more than being a rich kid to make me stop being your friend. And for the record, I’m not going to start batting my eyelashes at you because you've got money, either. I'm not a gold digger,” he said, watching Tony carefully as he sat beside him on the couch. “Although, I can't speak for Bucky. You might turn his head.”

Tony laughed. “And incur the wrath of Sam? God forbid.”

“Did everyone know about that?”

“Did you not know?” Tony said, incredulous.

Steve shook his head.

“Dear god, Steve,” Tony laughed again. “They've been flirting from the moment they met.”

“That was flirting ?”

Tony covered his face with one hand. “No, you know what, I'm too hungry to have this conversation with you. Want to order a pizza and watch some shitty movie?”

Steve hesitated, but rain was still drumming steadily against the room’s skylight and a howling wind had began to pick up as well. And he was hungry.

“It's like 3am,” he said, with the least amount of determination he had ever possessed, at the same time as he reached for the television remote.

“It's the weekend. And the spare bed here is really comfy.”

Something at the back of Steve’s mind bounced excitedly at the thousands of movies that an over the top, luxurious, enormous flatscreen such as this one promised, but he was overwhelmingly occupied by the grin that lit up Tony’s face as he dug out his phone and began to dial.

Tony kicked his feet up so he could sprawl across the couch, and his odd socked toes pressed at the side of Steve’s thigh as he put on his best charming phone voice and sweet talked a pizza out of someone.

Steve’s heart soared and then sank like a stone.

He wanted this to be his every day, all day.

He wanted it so bad.

***

“You're staring,” Bucky said breezily, flipping the pages of a magazine he appeared to have pulled from thin air.

Steve started guiltily and looked away from Tony. “Shut up,” he hissed, blushing. “How would you even know? You're not looking.”

“You're always staring,” Bucky shrugged. “You didn't even notice me go and buy this, did you?” he said, raising the glossy pages slightly off the grass.

Steve blushed harder. That explained it.

Tony finally looked over and grinned at Steve when he noticed him. He finished up his conversation with -- someone, Steve didn't really care, clapped them on the shoulder then approached his friends in the grass.

“Are you guys just always here?” Tony said, hands in his pockets. “Don't you have, like, classes to go to? Ever?”

Steve rolled his eyes despite himself. “Tony, when was the last time you actually went to class?”

Tony's eyes widened. “I have classes?”

“Don't smile, you're encouraging him,” Bucky scolded Steve, who tried to hide his mouth with his hand.

“You're no fun,” Tony said.

“Which is why you're always hanging out with us,” Bucky raised an eyebrow.

“Damn, you've got me, it's really because I'm desperately in love with you, aren't I sad,” Tony feigned a swoon, clutching imagined pearls to his chest. “Speaking of, where is the third musketeer any-- hey, Steve, where are you going?”

Steve shrugged off the question and kept walking, staring at his shoes. His cheeks were hot with shame. It hurt to even hear Tony say that because, well, why else had Steve been hanging out with Tony than for that very reason?

He knew he wasn't being made fun of, the logical part of him was certain of it, but that didn't cool his face. So he left before the others could notice.

“Steve?”

Or not.

“Hey,” Tony said, a little out of breath from jogging to get in front of him. “What did I say? I'm sorry, whatever it was, you should know better than to listen to me, you know what I'm like, I don't even listen to me most of the time, it'll get like five minutes into a conversation and then I'll realise I've just made a declaration of love to the wrong person, you know how it is--”

And -- fuck -- for some goddamn reason, Steve’s body decided that the best way to shut Tony up was to cover his mouth. With his own mouth.

He was kissing Tony Stark, what the hell.

Tony responded first by way of a muffled squeaking, then by snaking his arms around Steve’s neck and pulling him closer.

Steve was the one to break the kiss, too overwhelmed by multiple factors to concentrate on doing much more than remaining vertical and, you know, conscious.

“What,” he said, vaguely aware that Tony had spoken.

“I was saying,” Tony laughed. “I thought you were straight.”

“So did I,” Steve replied distantly. But, well, the reaction his body was having - had been having - and the urge to lean forward and kiss Tony again - he should really sit down soon. “Well, for a while I was also kind of worried that I hated you for being gay, but then it turned out I just sort of hated the people who were -- kissing you who weren't me. Essentially, I guess, I'm a very jealous bisexual and you're -- you're staring at me, please stop that. It's sort of disarming. You have large eyes.”

‘You have ’--” Tony threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, man. Steven Rogers, raging homophobe, ladies and gentlemen.”

“Stop that,” Steve absolutely did not whine.

“Kiss me again,” Tony said, delighted.

“Don't tell me what to do,” Steve continued not whining.

But he did it anyway.

***

“Hey, sorry I'm late-- where's Steve?”

“Smooching Stark. You owe me a twenty, just FYI.”

“He didn't.

“He so did. You should've had more faith in our boy's game.”

“Double or nothing: first to do a walk of shame.”

“...you're on, Wilson.”