It was his alone time with the punching bag again and that was good. It gave him time to think as well as punch with abandon. Steve liked to imagine he was punching his own feelings on these occasions, and today was no different.
The reason for this particular session was Tony Stark. In the past month and a half or so, his robot-loving, red-and-gold-wearing fellow student was the number one reason why so many of his usual activities turned angry - angry running, angry Charleston, and angry shield-slinging, to count just a few.
This time, like many other times, Tony did nothing personal to Steve to anger him, not one thing.
They had rallied some of the other students the day before, and together they defeated an oncoming alien invasion. They worked well as a team, Tony did as he was told, just like everyone else. He didn't go overboard with his robots, he didn't go heedlessly into the battle to impress a girl or several, he even asked Steve for a permission to quickly fly Ant-Man to the infirmary when he got hit with a poisonous alien arrow. He came back moments later and asked for orders, and then followed them without complaints. None of those things made Steve mad, what made him mad was what happened after the battle. Tony smiled at him and said "We make a good team." And then, he reached out and wiped Steve's cheek with his thumb and said "You had a little bit of alien slime there."
So now Steve was in the middle of yet another Angry Activity, because he just couldn't understand it. Why would anyone play with other person's feelings like that? But that was not a question he would ever ask Tony to answer, taking it out on the punching bag was the only solution.
He finished with his punching session and went to his dorm room to shower. He was feeling better already, until he passed Tony in the hallway. Tony smiled at him, did his little ridiculous finger pistol gesture, and Steve felt that familiar tug on his heart. Which was why he quickened his step and went by Tony without saying anything.
In his dorm room, he sat on the bed for a moment, then instead of going to the bathroom, to shower, he lay on the covers and stared at the plain white ceiling until... everything turned red and yellow with lights. He was at Wasp's New Year's Eve party again.
He had been invited by Wasp and then repeatedly re-invited until he said he'd come. He didn't want to go, he was going to spend the New Years's Eve in his bed, watching a movie marathon or just sleeping. But Wasp convinced Falcon to make him come. Steve couldn't say no to Falcon, especially when he said he'd go alone otherwise and be sad about his recent breakup. Steve felt it was his duty to be there for his friend.
Falcon on his part helped Steve choose something nice to wear - his nicest pair of jeans and a fancy-looking dark blue shirt Falcon "borrowed from a friend", offered some conversation starters if he found himself with that special someone, and at ten or so they went to Wasp's party.
The party was not what Steve expected at all. The lighting was really dimmed down reds and yellows, provided by numerous lanterns in those colors. Most of the people at the party were paired up on plush red couches, like couples. Instead of electronic dance music which he had expected, and which made him despair about not even being able to show off his Charleston skills, there was a lot of saxophone music and R&B - which he knew about because Falcon had a collection of it in their dorm room and he played it when he brought girls there and Steve had to disappear for an hour or two.
He turned to ask Falcon about the theme and purpose of this party, but he was gone. Steve spied him in the middle of the room, on the biggest red couch, talking to Misty Knight. It was going to be a long night.
Luckily, Steve was a master strategist, and assessing the room, he found a solitary chair that wasn't occupied by any of the couples but that had a clear view of the room, so that he could see Falcon when he was ready to leave, or before that, if he needed someone to talk to after his romantic advances were rebuffed. After all, he was there to be a good friend, and he wasn't going to leave until he fulfilled his duty. No matter how much he wanted to.
This is how Steve spent the most of the night, sitting next to a red velvet-covered wall, counting the red and yellow lanterns, then just red, then just the yellow ones, then thinking how way after his bed time this was and hoping there wouldn't be any repercussions. He thought about dozing off until midnight, no one would notice anyway, but then he remembered Falcon and his duty as a friend. Then he touched the velvet wall some and re-counted the lanterns and wondered if anyone ever actually died of boredom or if it's just a phrase and if there's an answer to that question on the Internet. Which made him think about Tony Stark, which made him re-live all the moments he made a bad impression in front of Tony, who somehow was still talking to him even so, and how maybe... but no way, and then he just thought about his shield, the old girl needed polishing, a long and hard session with his best cloth.
He was in the middle of his seventh upstroke with the cloth when a voice brought him back into the reality. Tony Stark's voice.
"I said great party," Tony said smiling. He was wearing a dark red shirt, possibly silk, it looked really good on him. Steve just stared stupidly before he remembered-
"I love this song, do you know the band?" he asked with a smile he hoped was sweet. It was one of Falcon's ice breakers. He mentally thanked his friend for helping him not look like a ridiculous person just staring at Tony. In a dark red shirt that outlined his body and what a body...
"I think it's Toni Braxton..."
"Oh, I like them," Steve said, once more thanking his lucky Falcon.
Tony smiled. "I didn't think Wasp would take my suggestion to make her party about love this far." He ran his hand over the velvet wall to make his point.
"So it was your idea? Figures..."
"Oh no, not like this! She asked me about a theme for her party, and started to list all the ways the previous year sucked and going on about how probably no one will come to her party anyway because everyone's so disappointed about 2k10s now. So to make her stop I said 'How about... love?' and she started clapping and squealing and telling me I'm a genius. I had no idea she'd make it really really about love. I mean, save some for the February fourteenth, am I right?"
"Yeah," Steve said, fascinated by the way Tony's Adam's apple bobbed when he talked.
They just stood there for a moment, well Tony did, Steve sat on his chair.
"Mine would have been about future," Tony said, looking not quite at Steve, more like at the top of his head.
"With robots and little drones serving drinks?" Steve asked, he wanted Tony to stay, this was as close to fun he had gotten for the entire evening.
"Yeah, and maybe some holograms of famous people!?" Tony said with a big smile. Steve loved those.
Another silent minute passed, Steve hoping Tony'd say something, Tony instead choosing to touch the velvet wall some more and smile, which only made Steve more nervous.
"Do you think Loki will come to the party?" Steve asked, remembering another one of Falcon's icebreakers.
"He's there with Enchantress," Tony pointed to a couch just few feet away.
"Oh, I didn't see him there," Steve smiled, hoping some alien would attack and teleport him into space.
"It's almost midnight, you know?" Tony said, with a sort of expectant look on his face.
"I know, I can't wait." Steve said, smiling. He really couldn't wait to just get the hell out of there, Falcon be damned.
"So, do you have a special someone? I passed by Agent 13 and she was with Wonder Man, I thought you guys would be together for sure..."
"Oh no, we're not... Not like that. I mean she..."
"Oh, well, maybe some other girl... If you... I mean..."
"No... I'm here with Falcon," Steve said, hoping he was not blushing too much, he hated these kinds of questions. He added "-not like that! We're friends."
"So you're alone, and this is a kissing party."
"A what?!" Steve said, seeing black. Or really dark red.
"Yeah, basically, everyone kisses when the clock strikes twelve. For good luck in the next year. It was on the flyer."
"Falcon didn't tell me that!" He got up from his chair. A kissing party? That was highly irregular! But a kissing party which he attended, that was just impossible.
"Hey, you don't have to leave. Well, not until just before the countdown."
"Falcon will hear me," Steve said, searching for his dissembling best friend in the crowd. He was nowhere to be seen.
"I'm sorry Falcon deceived you," Tony said, touching him lightly on the shoulder, "But this doesn't mean you have to leave. Actually... I don't have a kissing partner either and I was thinking..."
Steve stared at Tony. Was he really suggesting what Steve thought he was suggesting?
"You don't have to," Tony continued. "We can just hide or something until they stop with the kissing and like, emerge or something, and no one will be the wiser. I was just... Do it for the country, you know?" He smiled shyly at Steve in expectation and then, seeing only a blank look of blankness on Steve's face, turned away from Steve as if he knew it was a lost cause.
"I do!" Steve said without thinking.
Tony looked at him with wide questioning eyes.
"I'll kiss you." Steve said, crossing his arms.
"No, I'll kiss you," Tony smiled back at him and crossed his arms as well, but in a challenging way. Steve only then noticed how long Tony's legs were and how good they looked in his fancy dark pants.
As they measured each other up in mock challenge, the countdown started.
Tony uncrossed his arms first and Steve found himself pushed against the velvet wall, one of Tony's hands on the small of his back, the other behind his head. He felt Tony's warmth, and saw Tony's dark eyes smiling at him, before they closed and Tony's lips were on his. Steve wasted no time either, and let his hands roam over Tony's warm, silk-clad back. He sucked on Tony's lower lip before Tony did the unexpected and slipping his tongue between his lips, licked into his mouth. Steve was lost. Somehow his hand found itself in Tony's hair and he made it his task to get even more of Tony, even though it was impossible. The wall behind him might or might not have cracked a little.
After what felt like hours, they separated, the cheers of Happy New Year were still loud enough for Steve to realize that was one long kiss. A popular song about not feeling one's face started to blare from the speakers.
Tony's eyes were sparkling and his hair was a mess. He was smiling at Steve, and Steve expected he was smiling too. He actually expected he had died and went to heaven and that glorious kiss was it.
"That was not so bad," Tony said, winking at Steve.
Steve wanted to say 'We should do this again sometime', maybe wink at him as well. But instead he said "Not... the worst thing I had to do for my country by far!" and then winked and smiled back at Tony.
Tony looked at him, nodded, smiled once more and said "Well, I've got to go back. Busy..." And he left. Steve saw him near the door with Wasp, briefly talking and smiling, but then he was gone.
Moments later, Falcon found him and said "Well, this party is a downer," without explaining why (later he'd tell Steve that Misty only gave him a friendly kiss on the cheek, when he wanted more). They went back to their dorm room, and Steve dreamt about his and Tony's next kiss being even better.
But that never happened.
After the New Year's Eve party, Tony went to a business-slash-skiing trip that lasted a week. When he came back, he acted like... Well just like before. He'd say hi and discuss defense strategies and push his robots as the best solution, but nothing more.
Another week passed, and Steve started to think he dreamed up that kiss. But how could he have imagined the feel of Tony's solid warm body against his own, his tongue licking into his mouth, his hand in his hair... He was imaginative, but not that imaginative.
After another week - three weeks after the kiss, two weeks of Tony pretending nothing happened, he went to Club A, where Wasp had had her party, and he found the wall that had been covered with red velvet. He ran his finger over it, and there it was, the crack. He hadn't imagined anything! Incidentally, that was also the week he started with the angry running.
The next week he decided it was not worth it. He had a job to do in this Academy and some rich guy toying with him was not something that was going to prevent him. So he angrily pounded the sand bag. So he "accidentally" beheaded a dummy every time he angrily threw his shield. A boy had to let off steam somehow...
So by the time February came around, as far as Steve was concerned, no kiss ever happened. He treated Tony like a work colleague, or any other fellow student at the Academy -suggested changes when he messed up, praised his work ethic when he did well.
But it didn't end there. Because, as Steve made his decision not to care, Tony seemingly made one of his own. And that was to do whatever Steve wanted him to. With a smile, one of his sweet smiles Steve never had directed at him previously. A "we're friends and you like what I'm doing" smile. Heartbreaking and sweet at the same time. He directed it at Steve whenever Steve asked for something, in his well-practiced "just a colleague" voice, or when he gave an order, or when he commended Tony for something he did well (as well as other students, he was not favoring Tony over the others or anything). He couldn't make sense of any of it so the angry activities continued.
He soon noticed that "happy" was Tony's default setting. He was cheerful all the time. Steve in spite of himself thought he was probably in love or something. Why shouldn't he be happy in that case? After one too many studying sessions where instead of studying great leaders, he'd just angrily think about Tony being in love with someone else and draw anatomically correct hearts with small cracks in his textbook. Steve realized that Angry Studying was now a part of his activities too.
Luckily he could always count on some villain attacking the Academy. Which was how the latest Angry Activity-causing thing happened and how he ended up staring at the ceiling instead of angrily showering. Steve remembered he was supposed to shower after the heavy bag session.
That done, he decided to try and study again. After all, he released the pent up energy and had a calming hot shower, and it was Friday afternoon, no one would be at the Timeless Archives. Especially not Tony Stark.
He got his books and went there before his thoughts of Tony's Happy Life had a chance to overtake his brain. To be completely immersed in his study, he also took some old tests that he'd work on instead of drawing all the... stupid things.
Just as he expected, there was no one at the Timeless Archives. He chose a desk, sat down and opened his book allowing himself a smile in expectation of a great study session.
He was in the middle of Pericles' great speech to Athenians when a soft sound of a chair being pulled out behind him broke his concentration. He turned in the direction of the sound, only to see none other than Tony Stark with a bunch of books and accessories - like his portable cheese sandwich box, setting shop.
Tony saw him turn around and smiled and waved. Steve smiled back, if you could call frowning upwards a smile, and turned back to his own book.
But the damage was done. Try as he might, Steve couldn't focus on studying. Tony made no sounds or anything to disturb him, he was engrossed in his own books judging from the lack of talking, and yet Steve could only think about him. And grow angry. And sad. And confused. All at once! So he started to pack his things. All of a sudden he got an urge for running at the race track. It was Friday afternoon anyway, Great Leaders could wait half a day or so.
"You're done already?" a whisper came from behind a book stack on Tony's desk.
Steve's throat felt dry. "Yeah..." he answered.
"I'll be here for a while," Tony said.
Steve didn't care. Well, he wished he didn't anyway. He wished the first thought that came to him hadn't been 'Did you bring plenty of water?' Instead of that, Steve settled on "Oh..." A 'Well, I'm gonna go now.' kind of 'Oh'.
"Yeah," Tony continued, peering from behind the books so that Steve could only see his forehead and his eyes. They looked tired but they were smiling. "I'm working on my theoretical physics paper. It's about an experimental field and the funny thing about that is-"
"Well, I've got to go." Steve interrupted him. He didn't want to talk about schoolwork with Tony.
"Wait!" Tony got up and walked up to Steve. "I just wanted to..." he hesitated for a second. "I wanted to say that..." he exhaled heavily, then looked Steve straight in the eye. "When you are trying to confirm a hypothesis and turn it into a theory, you have to repeat the experiment at least once so that the results average out."
Steve had no idea what Tony was rambling about. Physics was never his strong suit. So he just looked sideways at Tony.
"Say you have two particles you want to collide and observe the result," Tony started again, with a sort of pleading...? look in his eyes. "You can't just have them collide once and write down what happened and call it a day. You have to do it again, because only then you'll know if the first result was real or... a fluke. Or something. Like maybe that first time, one of the particles was off his game or nervous because they had wanted to collide with the other particle for a long time..." Tony smiled shyly at Steve.
"I'm really not that good at physics, Tony." And maybe you should dial this subject down as well, if it makes you this jumbled, he thought to himself.
Tony sagged and sighed heavily.
Steve had a lightbulb moment. "Unless," he said, "you're not talking about physics?"
Tony smiled. "I'm not actually," he said.
"Alright, I'm gonna ask you this once, Stark," Steve said, lifting his pointer finger to enunciate that 'once'. "Are these particles of yours us?"
Tony just nodded vehemently, happy that Steve solved his little riddle.
Steve felt hot fury at the bottom of his stomach. So that was it, he thought. You thought I sucked at kissing, or you felt nothing, and you decided it never happened. But now you're scientifically curious or something and you want a re-do.
"You..." was what came out of his mouth instead. Instead of elaborating, he turned on his heel and did the closest thing to storming off he could manage - walked out of Timeless Archives really fast and angrily.
He was approaching the dorm when he heard the tell-tale sound of Tony's jet boots. "Cap, wait! Steve, please!"
But Steve didn't stop, so when Tony appeared in front of his face he almost walked into him.
"I'm sorry!" Tony said. "I shouldn't have asked for that! I am so sorry! Please!"
Steve sidestepped him and hurried into the dorm. He was not having this conversation, and he wanted Tony as far away as possible.
But Tony didn't give up. He came after him, into the dorm. When Steve was in front of his door he turned around. He wanted to tell him there's no way he's coming inside and to get lost. Tony was standing there, looking at him pleadingly, and Steve saw he was on the verge of tears. And before he could think 'Good' he thought 'Why? What is wrong?' So he opened the door and with a small nod allowed Tony to come in. Because he was a damn fool and he couldn't even imagine Tony crying over something he did or failed to do.
They sat on Steve's bed wordlessly.
"I'm sorry," Tony said one more time, in a soft voice.
Steve wanted to say What for? I'm the one who wasn't good enough. Instead, he said "In spite of... everything, I would like us to still be friends."
And Tony laughed, a small choked sound but still a laugh. "Yeah... That'd be nice."
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Steve trying to think up something to say, trying not to think he had Tony on his bed, Tony who considered him a charity case, what with offering another chance, maybe to make himself feel better and sure that he felt nothing for Steve, or to try and make Steve feel better by giving him one last kiss, one final taste...
"So, do you not like me or boys in general?" Tony asked with a sad smile, breaking the silence as well as saving Steve from making a fool of himself again. The look on Tony's face said that it was a rhetorical question.
Steve looked at him, searching his face for a tell tale sign of Tony making another joke at his expense. All he saw was a look of sad resignation. A warning bell went off in his head.
"What do you mean do I not like you?" he asked in a serious voice. And before Tony could answer he placed his hands on Tony's shoulder, looked into his eyes and said "I like you. Tony, I like you a lot. You don't like me."
Tony grabbed Steve's shoulders in return and said "You don't! You said so yourself!"
"You said you hated it!"
Steve realized he was talking about their kiss. "No I didn't!" he said, his voice unnaturally high.
"Yes you did! Immediately after we kissed you said you hated it!"
"No I didn't!" He really really didn't! He would've remembered saying the biggest lie of his life.
"Yes you did! You said, and I quote: 'The worst thing I had to do for my country by far.'"
In that moment Steve could've cried. It was so surreal. "I said: 'NOT the worst thing I had to do for my country!' I was nervous!"
"So was I!" Tony said, pointing at his chest fiercely. "I thought I'd messed up or something, that maybe my expectations and nervousness created an illusion of the most perfect kiss with the... with you."
"You thought it was perfect?" Steve asked, smiling stupidly.
"Yeah!" Tony smiled back at him.
They just smiled at each other stupidly for a few seconds.
"And now we're here," Steve said, looking at Tony's lips. Tempting as always.
"We are," Tony said in a low voice.
Steve touched Tony's face, slid his thumb down Tony's jaw, until he was holding his chin. He came closer and just as their lips were about to touch he said "Here comes second try." Tony chuckled, and then their lips were touching, Tony's tongue found his lips as his hands found themselves on Steve's back and slid up and down it. Steve remembered they were on a bed so he pushed Tony down and got on top of him to show him just how much he wanted to kiss him again for more than a month. Tony seemingly felt the same, he went down willingly and they kissed and kissed until their lips hurt and they needed air.
Later, they lay back side by side on the bed, breathing heavily, their hands entwined.
"Not bad, at all, Rogers," Tony said in a breathy whisper.
"I think we need more experimenting," Steve said, already recovered somewhat and eager for more.
The door of Steve's room opened suddenly. In came Falcon with She Hulk on his heels. Falcon halted, looked at Steve and Tony, looked a bit harder, then said: "Congrats Stark, see you've finally caught my friend." He mumbled something to She Hulk, they left the room and closed the door.
Steve lifted his head a little and looked at Tony questioningly.
"I've liked you for a long time," Tony said simply.
"Never tell me for how long, please." Steve said and gave Tony a chaste peck on the lips.
"I know a great way to forget all about time."
Instead of answering, Tony swiftly got on top of Steve and whispered against his lips: "Round three."