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Steve stomped the snow off his boots as he went up the stairs of the unfamiliar apartment building, counting off each floor as he turned around the banister. Floor 9… apartment 908. It was at the end of the wall. The building was older, but well maintained and spotlessly clean. Steve looked back down the hall and felt a twinge of guilt at the slushy footprints he’d left in a track down the impeccable carpet.

The key was under the mat, as Sam had said it would be, and Steve let out a nervous breath before sliding it into the lock. He pushed open the door and took in the apartment. It was nicer than the building itself, clearly remodeled within the last decade. The kitchen was to the left with a long window facing the side street. It opened to the living/dining space, mostly a few comfy looking couches, a TV, and a small eating table with two stools. There were two doors at the back of the living room, and Steve assumed they were the bedroom and the bathroom. One was open, one was closed.

“Darby?” he tried cautiously, but there was no response. He kicked off his boots, tucking them carefully onto the boot tray so they wouldn’t drip wet snow onto the carpet, then padded into the kitchen. There was a note on the counter.

Hey Steve,
Thanks for looking after Darby for me. She’s a bit deaf so she might not always hear you call her, especially if she’s sleeping. She’s super friendly though and has lots of energy. She’s only 2, but she was rejected as a military dog because of her hearing and I was lucky enough to get to adopt her.
I hope she’s good for you. Sam says you’re great with dogs, so I’m sure she’ll be better for you than me! Her food is in the cupboard under this note. Help yourself to anything. There’s beer and food in the fridge, and any of the takeout places under the magnets will put your order on my tab. Her leash is by the door. She loves walks and runs! Just watch out for the lady at the end of the hall with the grey hair and purple coat - she hates Darby and complains to the building manager constantly, so maybe wait for the next elevator if you see her.
She went for a walk at 4, so she won’t need to go out again until bedtime.
Thanks again man, I really appreciate it! Call if you have any questions.
James

Steve smoothed the note back out on the counter. He checked the cupboard and found a post-it stuck to it that said “1 cup, 2x day.” He checked the fridge next and found a six-pack, milk, bread, cheese, vegetables, and some leftover spaghetti and meatballs. Honestly, it was more food than he could usually afford to keep on hand, and since most of it would probably go bad in the week Colonel Rhodes was away, he was better off eating it and saving him the cleanup.

Steve was starting to wonder if the dog part of the dog sitting was a myth, however, so he set off in search of Darby. He found her in the bedroom, flat out on the bed with all four paws in the air, snoring softly. She was a German Shepherd, or maybe a Malinois, with dark paws and muzzle and fluffy golden sides. She snored again and one of her paws twitched. Not wanting to startle a dog he’d never met - and one that likely had some military training at that - Steve tapped the edge of the bed with his foot and called her name again; Darby leapt into action. She flipped upright, facing completely the wrong direction, said, “boof,” then turned and saw Steve. She immediately broke into a doggy grin and a full-body wag, charging off the end of the bed and colliding with Steve.

“Whoa!” Despite years of intense weight training and workouts, Steve only half-caught her not insubstantial heft, and they both slipped to the floor in a tangle, Darby slobbering kisses all over Steve’s chin and neck and whining with excitement. “Yes, hello,” Steve said, laughing now. “It’s nice to meet you.”

As quickly as she’d charged him, Darby was off again, taking two vigorous laps around the apartment then screeching to a halt by her bowl with an expectant look. Steve chuckled at her. “I could be a burglar you know?”

Darby gave him a look along the lines of, “I’ll show you where the good silver is, as long as you feed me first,” and, glancing at the clock, Steve decided it was late enough for dinner. He poured out her kibble, and Darby waited patiently until Steve said, “Okay,” then dove in like she was a contestant in an eating competition.

It was 6:30, and they didn’t need to go out for a walk until much later, so Steve decided to join her, pulling the spaghetti out of the fridge and placing it in the microwave. It was a little awkward, eating essentially a stranger’s food, but he kept reminding himself that Rhodes wouldn’t have said it was fine if it weren’t. While the microwave spun, and Darby followed her speed meal with several huge gulps of water, Steve stood at the edge of the couch and flicked on the TV, cycling through his options. It was kind of overwhelming. Rhodes had all the specialty channels as well as Netflix, Prime, HBO - pretty much everything. Steve had brought a few art projects and his ratty old laptop to try and get some work done, but tonight, he decided, he was just going to relax.

One of the movie channels was playing Die Hard, and with all the snow outside it seemed like a perfect theme. Christmas was right around the corner, after all. Steve’s stomach twisted at the thought of Christmas, and he tried to push it back out of his head. It was the first year he’d be celebrating alone. Bucky was in Germany participating in a study on new prosthetic technology, and it would extend over the holidays. It was the first year since Steve’s mom had died that Bucky wouldn’t be there, and Steve’s heart twinged painfully. Sam had invited him to his family Christmas, and so had Clint, but Steve had declined. There were few things worse than being the sad, single guy crashing someone else’s family holiday.

It wouldn’t be that bad alone. At least he wouldn't have to eat those candied yams that Bucky liked so much or put up with him singing carols with the words changed to dirty things. But thinking about that just made Steve lonelier, so he changed the channel to HGTV to watch couples fight about which house to buy, instead. Their budgets would likely make him feel horribly poor, but he was used to that, so it was a little better than feeling alone.

“Besides, I’ve got you, right, sweetheart?” Darby wagged her tail violently and flung herself at the couch with enthusiasm. She was asleep again before Steve returned with his steaming bowl of spaghetti, and he was forced to tuck himself in the small space between her butt and the edge of the couch. Her hind leg stretched out to rest on his shoulder as she turned herself on her back again, and Steve reached out between bites to pat her exposed belly.

Steve followed the pasta - which was delicious - with two beers and started having intense opinions on which houses the useless couples should buy. “They’re complaining about the colour of the accent wall, Darby. Like, it’s not even a full wall to have to repaint. It’s the perfect house for them!”

Darby snorted and stretched one arm up over her head.

“It is,” Steve insisted. “The other one had no yard. And the first one was going to be a fortune to remodel. Trust me.”

Darby apparently did trust him, because she seemed entirely unconcerned with the couple’s choice of home, leaving it up to Steve to keep an eye on them. Steve set his empty beer down and leaned sideways on the couch so he could rub his hand across her stomach.

When the episode ended, and with it, the channel’s marathon of that show, Steve flicked off the TV and got up to get his sketchbook out, figuring he’d work on something after all. Darby woke when he stood and followed him into the bedroom where he’d stashed his bag. She climbed on the bed and watched him root around until he came up with a sketchbook and his pencil tin. It was battered and dented from years of use, but his mother had given it to him and he loved it. Darby dropped off to sleep again while he flipped through his phone, trying to find the list he’d written of sketch ideas. There was a solid chance that dog was part sloth.

But just as he was scrolling through the list, waiting for something to spark his inspiration, he heard the click of the lock and the creak of the door swinging open. His heart immediately jumped into overdrive. Had he gotten the dates wrong? Was Rhodes home early? Were the note and food and beer actually for someone else? Steve’s panicked brain scrolled through every option, forgetting that the note had been made out to him.

He stepped out of the bedroom and saw a man, about his age, standing just inside the door, tugging a snow-covered boot off. He had dark, wild hair, nearly hidden by a hideous green, handknit hat. His goatee was carefully trimmed in contrast to everything else about his appearance. He was wearing a massive, puffy coat, and jeans with a hole over the knee. He seemed to be struggling with his boot.

“Oh, for fucks sake.” He kicked violently, and the boot finally came off and landed on the floor a few feet away. “You sit there and think about what you’ve done,” he told it.

“Um,” Steve said, and the man’s eyes snapped to him.

“Uhh,” The man pulled off his hat to reveal a mess of damp curls and surprised eyes. “Rhodey. You’re looking different today. New haircut?”

So he was a friend of Colonel Rhodes? “Hi, I’m Steve,” Steve said uncertainly. “I’m dog sitting?”

Darby chose that moment to wake up with another “Boof” and fling herself out of the doorway, past Steve and into the man. He seemed better prepared for her onslaught than Steve had been, opening his arms and catching her deftly as she leapt up to kiss his face.

“Jink!” Tony grinned as she smothered him in affection. He let her kiss him for a while then shoved her back down onto the floor when he’d had enough. He turned his attention to Steve again as she sat at his feet, gazing up at him adoringly. Steve supposed it was a good sign that this guy clearly had a key and Darby obviously liked him - then again Darby would probably like a serial killer if he let her lick his face. “Steve, huh? Dog sitting?” The man looked around him at the apartment. “What?” He shed his coat and came in.

“I’m a friend of Sam’s, from the VA?” Steve wondered why everything he said came out like a question. “Sam knows Rhodes, and he said he was looking for a dog sitter and I was free so, Sam said…”

The man stared at him for a long time. “I thought Rhodey wasn’t leaving until tomorrow?”

“No, today. Thursday.”

“It’s Thursday?”

Steve resisted the urge to laugh. The man sounded utterly bewildered by that. “Yes, it’s Thursday.”

“Well, shit. I thought it was Wednesday.” The man dropped his snow gear next to the door and cut across the room to stand in front of Steve. He raked his gaze over Steve from head to foot, and Steve shuffled under the scrutiny, then the man held his hand out with a smile. “Tony. I’m Rhodey’s best friend.”

Steve shook the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you, Tony.”

“You know, no offense, I’m sure you’re a great dog sitter, but I’m a little hurt Rhodey didn’t ask me to look after Jink.” Tony pouted, but Steve could tell he was only kidding.

“It might have something to do with you thinking today was Wednesday.”

Tony laughed, deep and rich, and Steve couldn’t hide his own grin. Tony had a nice laugh. “That’s a fair point, Steve.” Darby sat at Tony’s feet and leaned against his legs, gazing up at him until he patted her head. “Good girl, Jinky.”

“Um, I thought her name was Darby?” Steve asked awkwardly. Yet another question.

Tony laughed again. “Yeah, that’s the name Rhodey gave her, but she came out of the service with the nickname Jink because of the violent about-turn she’d do if she saw a squirrel. So I still call her that, because I maintain that Rhodey should never have changed it. She’s too deaf to care anyway.”

Steve smiled back. “That’s cute. It’s a good name.”

Tony looked up from Darby to shoot Steve a sly look. “You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”

“Uh no, I’m from Brooklyn, actually. I just moved here. My apartment isn’t ready for another week which is part of why this all got set up. Rhodes gets someone to look after Darby, and I have a place to stay until my apartment is ready. Everything I own is in storage right now.” If by storage he meant ‘the back of Bucky’s van he’d borrowed while he was away.’

“Well, Brooklyn, any friend of a friend of Rhodey’s is a friend of a friend of a friend of mine, so, good to meet you. You like Boston so far?”

“It’s…” Steve shrugged. “Snowy.”

Tony laughed. “That’s true. It’s not usually like this. This storm has been madness. It’s only getting worse out there. My car almost got stuck on the way here.” Tony looked down at his phone and frowned. “Um.”

“Is everything okay?” Steve asked.

Tony looked up at Steve as if he’d briefly forgotten he was there. “Uh, yeah. I just - okay this is kind of awkward, not gonna lie. I thought Rhodey was leaving tomorrow morning, and I was going to crash at his place while he was gone. I forgot Darby was going to be here. Pepper usually takes her to her place, but she’s with Rhodey for this trip, so of course, Darby is here… I didn’t even think.”

“Sorry?” Steve tried.

Tony waved a hand. “It’s - it’s whatever. My fault. I didn’t plan ahead, as usual. I mean, I tried, this time. I booked the floor people to come while Rhodey was gone, and I completely forgot about Jinky.” Tony patted her absentmindedly, and her tongue lolled out.

“Floor people?”

“I’m having the floors redone in my condo this week.” Tony ran a stiff hand through his hair, smoothing the curls back. “In my head, I was just going to stay here…”

“Oh.” Steve shuffled again, the awkwardness bringing a flush to his cheeks.

“No worries.” Tony typed furiously on his phone. “I’ll just get a hotel room.” He walked over to the window in the kitchen and peered out, Darby close on his heels. “Sorry, I’m just going to -” He pointed to his phone, and Steve nodded, going back into the bedroom to grab his sketchbook and bring it to the couch. He started sketching Darby, instead of any of the projects he had listed on his phone, calling her over and asking her to sit pretty while he worked. She sat bolt upright, ears at full mast, and watched him intently as he skated his pencil over the paper. Steve got sucked into drawing, and he had most of the dog finished when a voice right behind him startled him into sitting up.

“You’re good.”

When Steve’s heart had calmed, he let out a tense breath. “Thank you.”

Tony chuckled. He was leaning over the back of the couch looking at Steve’s work over his shoulder. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s alright. I kind of get in the zone when I draw.”

Tony tilted his head in a surprising echo of Darby’s when you held up a treat. “I know that zone. Same for me when I get into a project.” There was an uncomfortable pause, then Tony ran his hand through his hair again. “So, sorry, this is pretty awkward, but the only hotel with a room in this snow storm is across town and my car can’t be here for another forty-five minutes. Is it alright if I hang out here? I don’t want to bother you so if it’s too weird - I can find an all-night diner or cafe, or something…?”

“No, no, of course that’s okay. Stay. It’s fine.” Steve made what he hoped was a welcoming gesture and scooted up on the couch. He couldn’t really say no, not with Tony being such a close friend of Rhodes, and it being so horrible out. But he found he didn’t really want to anyway, Tony seemed fun enough, and only a few hours ago, Steve had been whining about being lonely. Well, he didn’t have many friends in Boston yet, maybe Tony could be one of them?

“Thanks.” The relief was evident in Tony’s voice. He flopped onto the other end of the couch and Darby immediately wriggled her way in between them, her head on Tony’s lap and her back legs pressed against Steve’s side. They both reached down to pet her tummy at the same time then laughed. “So, Brooklyn -” Tony nodded towards the sketchbook “- you an artist then?”

“Oh, uh yeah. I mean, it’s just a hobby, but I’d love for it to pay the bills.”

“What does?”

“Nothing yet.” Steve sighed. “I have a job starting here in a couple weeks, but it’s just part-time, helping out at a gym. I came here because I was supposed to have something lined up at a gallery, but the person who set it up… it didn’t work out.” Steve was struck once more by the bizarreness of what he’d done - moving to an entirely new state for no reason whatsoever, except that he felt like he needed a change. “What about you?”

Tony waved a hand dismissively. “Ah, I’m an… engineer. It’s not very exciting.”

“Really? I think that’s cool. What kind of engineer?”

“Oh... sort of… all of them.” Tony suddenly looked a little uncomfortable. “I alternate between getting graduate degrees and actually making things.”

Steve opened his mouth to say, “Wow, that must be expensive,” then he remembered that Tony had said, “my car,” and not, “my cab,” and he thought for the first time that Tony might be from a well-off family. His clothes were shabby, but his phone, watch, and glasses all looked very expensive and new. So Steve closed his mouth again, sensing that Tony was a little uncomfortable talking about it. The silence stretched too long and became awkward again, so Steve reached out and grabbed the remote, holding it out to Tony. “Want to pick something?”

Tony took it and started flipping idly through channels, one hand still resting on Darby’s chest. Steve pushed to his feet to grab another beer. He held one out questioningly towards Tony, who hesitated, then nodded. Steve brought both beers back to see that Tony had chosen Jeopardy. He settled back into his spot and raised an eyebrow. Tony shrugged. “My mom always watched it, I got addicted.”

Over the next half hour, Steve’s mouth fell further and further open as Tony nailed every single question without hesitation. Neither of them was watching closely, Steve was sketching - Darby again - and Tony was tapping away on his phone, but he mumbled out a correct answer every time Trebek asked a question and by the end, Steve was looking at Tony and the screen instead of his page.

Tony nailed Final Jeopardy before the question was even all the way out of Trebek’s mouth, then yawned and frowned at his phone as it went to commercial.

“Are you serious?” Steve couldn’t help asking, and Tony’s head snapped up.

“What?”

“You just got every question without even thinking.”

Tony shrugged again. “I guess.”

“You should go on. You’d win for sure.”

Tony chuckled again, but it was more to himself, as if he was remembering some inside joke. “Maybe I will, someday.” He looked like he was about to say more, but then his phone rang again. He picked it up, and his expression gradually sunk. “Are you kidding me?” he hissed. “Happy, come on.” He paused. “No, no I get it. Okay.”

“Everything okay?” Steve asked when he hung up.

“Ugh. Happy can’t - my driver - he can’t get here. State Street is totally blocked off, snow brought down power lines, blah blah blah. It’s going to be like two hours. I’m so sorry. You probably had this whole night planned out with Darby and Lifetime movies or something and I’m ruining it all.” Tony looked distinctly stressed, and Steve did his best to reassure him.

“No, seriously, it’s fine. You shouldn’t be out driving in that weather anyway. Look -” he hesitated, wondering if this was too weird “- why don’t you just stay here tonight? You were going to crash with Rhodey here anyway, right? I don’t mind - I could use the company really - it’ll be safer for you and your driver, and then you don’t have to worry about finding a hotel at midnight.”

Tony looked at him curiously for a moment. “Really? You don’t mind?”

Steve shrugged. “It’s fine.”

“You’re awfully trusting, Brooklyn.”

Steve looked Tony up and down. From what he could tell, he was well-built, but unhoned, strong, but from manual labour, not training. “I think I could take you.”

Tony’s eyebrow shot up and his twisted frown curled up into a smirk. “Could you now?”

Steve felt his cheeks flush, only now realizing the innuendo in his words. But as soon as he did, it was all he could think about. Tony was hot, there was no denying that. Steve had carefully been avoiding thinking about that in an attempt to keep the awkwardness here to a minimum. But now that it had snuck into his mind, it was hard to ignore, especially with Tony smirking at him like that. “Yes,” he replied, firmly ignoring the suggestive undercurrent in Tony’s voice. “So don’t try and murder me.”

Tony’s smirk softened into a smile. “Fair deal. No murdering. Any other ground rules?”

“You have to take Darby out in the morning.” Steve smirked back.

“Ohh, you drive a hard bargain.” Tony considered him for a moment. “Okay, but only because I happen to know that she sleeps like a log until eleven.”

Steve laughed. “Insider info. Cheater.”

“Hey, either way, you won’t have to go out in the snow until dinnertime tomorrow. I think that’s more than fair.”

“Yeah, okay.” Steve reached out a hand, and Tony shook it, still smiling. Tony spent the next few minutes on the phone with people, arguing with someone called Pepper about meetings tomorrow and calling off Happy, The Driver With a Weird Name.

Steve was struck with a pang of guilt, and when Tony hung up he said, “You know, I was just kidding. I forgot normal people have jobs. You probably have to work tomorrow. You don’t have to walk Darby.”

“I don't have to work tomorrow,” Tony said, something pointed running under his words.

“But you told Pepper…”

“Eavesdropping is rude, Brooklyn,” Tony said, his eyes twinkling.

“You won’t get in trouble with your boss?”

“I -” Tony stared at him for a moment, as if the very idea was bizarre. “No, don’t worry,” he said, smiling now. “I won’t get in trouble with my boss. I have my laptop here anyway, I can get some work done if I have to.”

“Okay.” Steve turned to the TV, but he could feel Tony’s eyes on the side of his face. He turned back and raised an eyebrow at him.

“Are you sure this is okay?” Tony asked.

“Sure, why not?”

“I just - we don’t even know each other.”

Steve shrugged again. “I’ve only been to Europe once, but when I did, I spent the whole time sleeping in hostels where I was packed in with total strangers like sardines. I don’t think a friend of a friend crashing on the couch while I dog sit is that weird.”

“Friend of a friend of a friend,” Tony corrected, and Steve couldn’t help but laugh.

“I don’t mind, Tony. Stay.”

“Alright.” Tony tossed his feet up on the coffee table and started flicking channels again.

Tony ended up finding the movie channel which was playing Die Hard on repeat. Steve almost protested the choice, but Tony looked so excited about it, he found he didn’t mind watching it after all. It was an entirely different movie experience than with Bucky. Tony talked continuously throughout the movie, alternating between quoting along with it, offering up random movie and actor trivia, and quizzing Steve surprisingly intently about himself.

Tony managed to worm stories of his mom, his art, Bucky, and Brooklyn out of him with ease, though every time Steve tried to turn it around and learn about Tony, he deftly brushed it away.

When the movie was over, Tony asked if Steve wanted to play a game. Steve agreed, then burst into laughter when Tony lugged a massive box covered in dragons and armoured warriors off a shelf.

“What? It’s a good game.” Tony was almost pouting.

“I’m sure it is, I was just expecting... I don’t know. Poker, or Parcheesi, or something.”

Tony cocked an eyebrow. “Parcheesi?”

“You know what I mean.”

“We could do poker.” Tony looked around the room, presumably looking for a pack of cards, but he looked so disappointed, Steve rested his hand on the large game box.

“Nah, I want to play this now. You’ll have to teach me, though.”

Tony grinned.

It took nearly forty-five minutes to set up the game, partially because it was very complicated, and partially because Darby woke up partway through the setup and knocked everything off the coffee table with her exuberant tail wagging. Tony tugged her down onto the carpet beside him and rubbed her vigorously until she settled with her head in his lap. He kissed her on the end of her nose, and Steve had to hide his grin behind his cards.

It actually turned out to be a cooperative game instead of a competitive one - Steve and Tony against the board itself. There were little figures of the monsters they had to fight as they rescued hostages, found treasure chests, and upgraded their weapons. It was complex, but once Steve had the hang of it, he found himself getting completely sucked into it.

“If you attack the dragon, you’re leaving that entire group of hostages undefended!” Steve protested.

Tony sighed. “But if I don’t, it’ll kill you on the next turn.”

“The hostages are more important than me. Get them out.”

“Steve. If you die now, then we only have one more extra life left for the whole rest of the game. Neither of us can die again.”

Steve looked at Tony over the complex game board. “We can do it.”

Tony went for the hostages. The dragon didn’t manage to kill Steve on the next turn, but he was so injured from its attack that the next skeleton took him out easily. They hustled the hostages to safety then faced the final door. Tony looked up at Steve before sliding it open.

Steve stomach churned. “I’m actually really invested in this,” he said with a smile. “I’m going to be gutted if we can’t win.”

“It’s just a troll. We can take it.”

They almost didn’t. The troll knocked them both back to nearly zero health until Tony got a lucky roll and snuck in an extra hit, bringing the troll to its knees. He leapt to his feet, knocking Darby off his lap and did a victory lap around the apartment while Steve laughed on the couch, pressing a hand to his side as the laughter robbed his breath.

Steve grabbed the victory card and read it out. “With one last curse, the troll falls to the ground, defeated. The hostages send up a cheer in your honour as you lead them back to town, and to safety. The winning team gets one thousand gold coins, platinum level armour, and three potions each.” Steve peered curiously at the card. “What’s the point of getting all that stuff if we can’t use it since the game is over?”

Tony stopped his victory dance and slumped to the floor again, beside Darcy. “Oh, there’s a whole book of dungeons we can play. We level up as we go, carrying all our stuff with us.”

“Are you kidding?”

“‘Course not.” Tony pulled out the dungeon book and flipped through it, flashing the various maps at Steve. “Rhodey and I are on level thirteen.”

“Wow.”

“We could play the next one,” Tony offered tentatively

“I wish, but it has to be really late.” He looked at his watch to see how late it was and started up when he saw. “Oh shit, it’s 2am. I have to take Darby out.” Darby, for her part, didn’t seem too bothered, snoring heavily on Tony’s feet again. Steve went to the door and started to pull on his snow gear only to have Tony appear at his side, tugging on his own boots. “You don’t have to come.”

“Course I have to come. You’ll get lost in the snow if I don’t. You need people of intelligence on this sort of mission… quest… thing.”

Steve paused, halfway through zipping up his coat. “I feel like you’re expecting something from me.”

“You’re supposed to say, ‘Well that rules you out.’’’ Tony looked disappointed.

“Uh, sorry. Is that a quote from something?”

Tony’s mouth fell open. “Please tell me you’ve seen Lord of the Rings.”

“I have not seen Lord of the Rings.”

Tony’s rant lasted through the rest of their dressing, getting Darby in her jacket and leash, and all the way down the stairs to the side door.

“- just can’t believe a man can reach your age and never have seen - or read - Lord of the Rings. It makes no sense. I am flummoxed. You flummoxed me.”

Steve pushed open the door then turned to face Tony while Darby peeked out into the snow. “Okay, fine. I’ll watch it, I promise.”

“Them.”

“What?”

“You’ll watch ‘them.’”

“How many are there?”

“Three.”

Tony’s expression was entirely too innocent. Steve narrowed his eyes at him. “And how long are they?” Tony mumbled something and pushed past Steve out into the snow. “How long, Tony?”

“Like eleven hours all told, if you watch the extended, which you really should.”

“Holy shit.”

“Come on, that’s like one binge-watch,” Tony insisted. They marched together down the back alley to the street.

“I don’t watch much TV. That’s like a month’s worth for me.” Steve realized something uncomfortable. “I don’t even know how I could watch them.”

“They’re on Netflix.”

Steve blushed despite the cold. “I don’t have Netflix.”

“DVD?”

“I don’t have a DVD player.”

“How do you normally watch stuff?”

Steve hesitated. “At other people’s houses… usually.”

Tony gave him a long, piercing look, but his eyes snapped back to his footing as they marched through the snow and broke out onto the main street.

It was beautiful. Everything was settled into the dead quiet that only comes after one in the morning. It was cold, but Rhodes’ apartment had been warm, so the chill was welcome instead of unpleasant. A few soft lights leaked out of windows, but otherwise, the only light was the streetlamps and the huge, looming moon. The city was too bright to see the stars, but snow was still falling, more softly now, and each dancing flake was like a shooting star, twirling down and landing at their feet. Both men stopped and stared up for a moment, taking it in.

Steve turned his face from the sky to watch Tony smiling up at the falling snow. “I guess Boston’s not too bad after all,” Steve offered, and Tony turned to grin at him instead.

Darby snuffled around the base of the closest streetlamp then set off down the road in what seemed to be a practiced route, and Steve and Tony followed. The sidewalk was narrow with the snow cascading in on both sides and they walked close together, shoulders bumping as they climbed through the large drifts. It felt private and secret out here in the quiet dark. Even more so than in the apartment together. A rush of something warm and new flooded Steve’s stomach, and he swallowed it down hard. He barely knew Tony, it was too soon to feel this way, to feel a burgeoning crush.

And yet…

Steve was so distracted with thoughts of Tony and how he might set it up so they could see each other again, that he didn’t notice Darby veer off the path, climbing through the snow into a yard to sniff at something. He did notice, however, when she saw the squirrel. What it was doing up and about at 2am in December, Steve had no idea, but Darby wanted it badly. She charged across the lawn towards the squirrel, taking Steve with her. His arm jerked out, still gripping the leash, pushing a grunt out of his chest. Darby used the entire length of her six-foot leash to get up to maximum speed and ill-prepared as he was - staring at Tony like an idiot instead of paying attention - Steve barely slowed her down. He was face first in a snowdrift, spluttering and cursing, his arm throbbing with pain before he even registered what had happened.

Steve hauled back on the leash, trying to push himself up out of the snow, but every time he rested his weight on his hand, he’d sink in again. Laughter broke out behind him and a moment later, a hand rested on his back, another easing the leash out of his wet, cold fingers.

“I’ve got her,” Tony said. “Here.”

Steve took the proffered hand, and Tony hauled him out of the snow, pulling him close so he wouldn’t trip back into the deep drift again. They stood, chest to chest, Darby sniffing around at the end of the leash. Steve’s eyes drifted down to Tony’s. Tony was grinning at him, cheeks pink, laughter dancing around his eyes.

“That was amazing.” Tony spluttered back into laughter.

Steve grumbled, stepping back slightly to brush snow off the front of his jacket. Tony’s free hand came up to brush it out of his hair, and Steve’s stomach jolted at the contact. “I’m usually more coordinated than that.”

“I bet.” He was still laughing.

“Stop laughing at me,” Steve whimpered, but he was laughing now too. He swiped his hand across his chest until he had a handful of snow and reached out to rub it on Tony’s face, but Tony darted away, and Steve got his hat instead, knocking it off. Tony danced out of reach, then, when it was clear Steve was out of ammo, came back to grab his hat. He shoved it on his head and stuck his tongue out at Steve.

“Watch the hat, mister, it’s one of a kind.”

Steve tugged it down over Tony’s eyes, feeling bold in the crisp, quiet nighttime. “I was wondering where I could get one for myself. It’s so stylish.”

Tony reappeared, laughing again, pushing the hat back until his curls poked out the front. “My friend made it for me. I think it was actually a cruel joke, but then I started wearing it to get back at her and now I’m deeply attached.”

“It suits you.”

“It doesn’t.” Darby tugged, and Tony set off again, grabbing Steve’s sleeve to pull him along, only releasing him when it was clear he was following. “But I love it anyway. You’d like her, actually, my friend. Natasha. She’d like you too. I should set you guys up as a thank you for putting up with me tonight.”

Steve hesitated, then decided to go for it, on the off-chance Tony was fishing. “She sounds lovely, but not my type. Thanks anyway.”

“How can you know she’s not your type? All you know is that she knits ugly hats just to spite me. You not into yarn crafts?”

“Uh, no. There’s only one thing I need to know about her to know she’s not my type,” Steve said with more suavité than he was normally able to summon.

“Ah,” Tony said lightly. “Nevermind then.” He paused for a while, shuffling his feet through the snow and tipping his chin up to the sky again. “So, Sam is -?” he asked, and it took Steve a minute to parse what he meant.

“Oh. No, I’m not - Sam’s just a good friend. I’m -” Steve bumped into Tony’s back as he stopped to let Darby stick her face in the snow to sniff something. “-… single.”

Tony shot him a smile, then, “Fuck, I’m cold.”

“Do you think she’s done? We could go back in.”

“Sounds good. Come on Jink!” Darby ignored his voice, but responded when he tugged the leash, trotting after them as they headed back to the apartment complex.

Stepping into the warm apartment was such a relief that Steve shivered all over as soon as he shed his jacket, really feeling the cold that had seeped into his skin once he started to warm.

Tony unclipped Darby then looked at Steve with concern. “Shit, you really got soaked, didn’t you? Why don’t you go change, and I’ll make coffee or something?”

“Bit late for coffee.”

“It’s never too late for coffee.” Tony grinned.

“Tea?”

“Sure.”

Steve shuffled off to the bedroom and dug through his backpack for dry clothes. He could hear the clinks and clicks of Tony starting the kettle in the kitchen. Alone for the first time since Tony had shown up, Steve took a moment to take stock of things. He’d met this guy less than five hours ago, and he already felt like there was something electric crackling between them. Steve had never felt like that so quickly - it was a bit disorienting. And Tony was nearly impossible to get a read on, bouncing from flirty, to affectionate, to distant, and back to flirty again. Was the comment about his friend Natasha an honest suggestion or an attempt to gauge Steve’s interest?

And here they were stuck in the same apartment for the night. It was almost the perfect setup for a one night stand. Was that something Steve could do? Something he wanted? He looked at the bed and thought about Tony naked and spread out on it and felt a familiar jolt low in his belly. It’s not like he wouldn’t enjoy it… but it didn’t feel right. He liked Tony. He wanted to see him again, after tonight.

He heard the whistle of the kettle and struggled into his pajama pants as quickly as he could so Tony wouldn’t wonder what he was getting up to. He tugged on a t-shirt, then a sweater over top to help chase away the chill. Darby and Tony were back on the couch when he came out, Darby pressed against one arm, and Tony against the other, leaving nothing but the middle for Steve. When he sat, squishing up against the dog as closely as he could so he wouldn’t have to sit half in Tony’s lap, Tony handed him a steaming mug. It smelled soothingly of chamomile and mint.

“Thanks.”

“Sure.” Tony twisted a little in his seat, slouching against the arm of the couch, but it brought his foot up against Steve’s thigh, and the little four-inch square patch of skin that Tony was touching immediately ignited. Steve felt the intense desire to shift closer and farther away at the same time, and he warred with it before convincing himself to stay exactly where he was.

Tony had the remote back in hand and was flicking around, cruising past more old movies, Cops reruns, and late night talk shows. His foot pressed harder against Steve’s thigh, and Steve leapt to his feet with a jolt, jostling the tea over the side of his mug.

“Are you okay?” Tony asked.

“I think maybe I should just go to bed,” Steve said, unable to think of another reason why he had suddenly become spring-loaded.

Tony hesitated for a moment before saying, “Okay.”

“Do you want the bedroom?” Steve asked, gesturing towards the door, but Tony was already shaking his head, rising to his feet to stand in front of Steve.

“No way. All yours. I was going to sleep on the couch anyway. Besides, I think I’ll stay up for a bit longer. I don’t need much sleep, and I should probably get some work done.”

“Okay.” Steve’s feet wouldn’t seem to move, his eyes fixed on Tony. They hung there for what was probably only a few seconds but felt like an hour. Tony’s weight shifted, ever so slightly towards Steve, and Steve bolted. “Goodnight,” he threw out, powering across the room to the bedroom. Darby didn’t follow, so Steve left the door cracked in case she wanted to come in later.

He crawled under the covers and stared at the TV light flickering through the open door and onto the far wall. Had Tony been about to kiss him? That had kind of felt like a kiss-lean, but it had been so long since Steve had been on the receiving end of one, that he had no idea what they looked like anymore. Besides, Tony hadn’t shown any obvious interest in Steve so far. He hadn’t said anything about whether he was single or into guys, so Steve was left reeling. He lay in bed, completely unable to sleep for the next two hours, ears straining to listen to Tony ticking away on his laptop keyboard. At nearly 5am, the TV light switched off, the clacking stopped. Then there was a thud of paws, and a moment later, Darby padded into the bedroom and hopped up on the bed next to Steve.

“Get kicked out?” he asked her quietly. She licked his nose. Steve wrapped an arm around her middle and tugged her close, grateful for a little contact. That was probably all this crush thing was anyway - he was lonely, he was a little touch-starved, and Tony was here. It was nothing.

**

It was definitely not nothing.

Steve stood in the bedroom doorway only a few hours later and swallowed hard. His feet were stuck again. Tony was sprawled on the couch, one leg hooked over the arm, the other kicked out on the floor. He had a blanket, but it was all bunched up to the side which exposed the fact that he was very shirtless and wearing heart-stoppingly low-slung sweatpants. Steve swallowed again, but it didn’t seem to be helping. Tony’s chest was muscular but lithe, a few white scars glowing on his olive skin. One arm was thrown over his eyes, but his mouth was slightly open. The other arm rested teasingly on his hip, thumb hooked in the waistband of his sweatpants.

“Oh my god,” Steve mouthed to himself. He was staring, it was bad, he needed to stop, but he couldn’t. He wanted to immediately grab his sketchbook so he could immortalize that image forever, but, fuck, that was creepy.

A large, furry body bounced off the side of Steve’s leg and careened into the living room. Steve cursed silently and lunged for her collar, but it was too late. She launched herself at the couch - taking off a little too early - and landed, legs splayed wild, right on Tony’s chest. Tony let out a noise like he’d been punched simultaneously in the lungs and the crotch at the same time, which was probably pretty accurate, and folded in half around Darby like a switchblade snapping shut.

Steve darted for the bathroom. The last thing he wanted was to get caught staring at Tony’s half-naked body like the unbelievable creeper he clearly was. He turned the tap on right away, hoping that Darby’s distraction was enough that Tony didn’t notice him in the doorway. Steve brushed his teeth and washed his face. He thought about taking a shower but he also had the worrying feeling that Tony might leave to go to work and Steve would miss him heading out. He stared at his own face in the mirror trying to figure out how to ask Tony for his number. His reflection offered no insight, so Steve turned off the tap and stepped back out into the living room.

Tony was sitting up now - still shirtless - with Darby squirming excitedly on the couch next to him. He played with her feet idly with one hand while flipping through his phone with the other. When Steve shuffled up next to the couch, Tony looked up - he was frowning.

“Sorry, I know I said I didn’t have to go in this morning and I’d walk Jinky for you, but something’s kind of come up…”

“No problem,” Steve gestured in a way that he hoped looked understanding. “I really was kidding. Don’t let me keep you.”

“Yeah…” Tony’s eyes were back on his phone, intent, distracted, then he sprung to his feet, and Steve startled back a half-step at how close they were. All of Tony’s laser focus was suddenly on him. “Thank you.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, of course. Thanks for… hanging out with me. I - uh - had a good time.”

Tony grinned. “Me too.” There was another still, tense moment where Steve wondered wildly if Tony was going to kiss him, then Tony turned, pulled his t-shirt off the back of the couch and over his head and headed for the door. He pulled on all his winter things, kissed Darby on the head, then shot Steve one more look, almost curious this time, his head tilting to the side. “See you around.”

And then he was gone.

Steve cursed. He hadn’t asked for his number, dammit. He sighed and flopped down on the couch next to Darby - it was still warm where Tony had been sitting. What good would it have done anyway? He’d never call the guy, he was too much of a wuss. Steve had done a lot of reckless, risky things in his life, but trying to get someone to go out with him was never one he found the strength to do.

“Alone again, I guess,” he said to Darby. “Guess we’ll have to make our own fun.”

In the end, they didn’t really. Steve took Darby out for her walk and fed her breakfast, making toast for himself. They watching TV, and Steve drew, skipping all his planned projects again to sketch Darby, this time stretched out on her back on the couch. He found he couldn’t help smiling as he curved his pencil around the flopped-over paws she dangled in the air while she snored. She really was an awesome dog.

The day drifted away, lazily, but somehow over in a blink, and without Steve really realizing it, it was time for dinner. The leftovers were gone, and Steve was faced with more ingredients in the fridge than he usually went through in a month, and no idea what to do with them. On top of that, there was still the ever-present guilt worming through his stomach that he shouldn’t eat someone else’s food, even if it had been offered. He didn’t really have a choice, though - he certainly wasn’t going to take Rhodes up on his offer of free takeout.

Steve was hovering in the fridge door, trying to decide what to eat, when there was a knock at the door. Darby didn’t move from her spot, sitting in the corner of the kitchen, watching Steve, until he startled up and looked at the door. Then she leapt to her feet, looked in the general direction of the door and said, “Boof.”

“Great guard dogging, Darby.”

She wagged her entire body.

Steve walked to the door, Darby at his heels, confused. Who would be at Rhodes’ door at this hour? You didn’t usually get door-to-door salesmen in an apartment building. He wrenched open the door and found -

“Tony.”

“Hi.” Tony waved. “I forgot my overnight bag here this morning. Sorry. I didn’t realize until I packed up to go to the hotel.” Tony flashed him a brilliant grin, and Steve’s stomach flip-flopped.

“Oh, right. No problem, come on in.” Steve stepped back, and Tony slipped inside. He greeted Darby affectionately, then crouched down to root around under the couch. He came up with a slightly flattened duffle bag and waved it in triumph. Tony took two steps back towards the door, then hesitated, bending to pet Darby again, but with a shifty, awkward air about it.

“Unless…?” Steve started, and Tony’s eyes snapped up to his. “Want to stay for a beer? Or - uh I was about to eat…” Steve wished he could say he was about to order something, but he really couldn’t afford it, even as an attempt to get his new crush to stick around.

Tony broke into a stunning smile. “I’d love to! I was looking at eating alone in the hotel restaurant so this is three hundred times better.” Tony dumped his snow stuff by the door. “Takeout?”

Steve searched frantically for some excuse - he had allergies? He hated all takeout? He’d already made something? That would only work if he could miraculously produce finished food in thirty seconds. He bit his lip and tried to do the math on his bank account, but Tony was already digging through the stack of flyers on the fridge, sorting them into options. Shit. Well, if he ordered something small, he might be able to wait on getting internet at his new place. Or heat. Or electricity…

“Do you like sushi?” Tony asked.

Steve crossed the room to hover beside him, glancing at the flyers. “I don’t know.”

“You’ve never had -?” Tony shook his head. “It’s becoming a bit of a theme, Brooklyn. Looks like I’ll have to broaden your horizons myself this time. You up for it?”

“Sure.” Steve’s heart sunk even as he said it. It wasn’t just about pleasing Tony, though, he really wanted to try sushi and it seemed like Tony would know what to try. He’d just have to tighten up even more until his first paycheque. He could do it.

Tony picked up his phone and dialed the sushi place while Steve cleared his art supplies off the dining table. He could hear Tony ordering and wow, it sounded like a lot of food. When Tony hung up and joined Steve at the table, Steve could feel his cheeks colouring already. “How much do I owe you?” he managed to squeak out.

But Tony waved a hand imperiously. “My treat. What if you hate sushi? Then I forced you to buy food you don’t like. Nah, it’s on me.”

“I - wow. Thanks. I mean - are you sure? That’s awfully nice.”

Tony cocked an eyebrow. “It’s just sushi, Steve, not a Ferrari.”

Steve turned away so Tony couldn’t see his blush deepening. “I know. I was just… thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Tony said hesitantly, like he really didn’t get it. But for Steve it was a lot. It meant something that Tony wanted to buy him dinner. It’s not a date though, he told himself. He’s just being friendly.

Tony changed the subject, and Steve found himself falling into easy chatter until the food arrived. He poured Darby’s kibble in her bowl so she could join them, but hers was gone before Tony even had all the packages out of the bag. He laid out the various sushi rolls, explaining what was in them, then added a box of shrimp and vegetable tempura and a container of spring rolls.

Steve tried everything tentatively, then with growing enthusiasm as he found he loved everything he tried. He made the mistake of too much wasabi paste a few times and had to cough violently as his nose burned and his eyes watered with tears. Tony laughed but not cruelly, offering to get Steve a glass of milk after the second time. But he waved it away, shoving another piece of maki in to try and temper the sting.

Steve ate much more than he intended, not realizing how filling it was until it was too late. He sat back in his chair and groaned.

“So what do you think?”

“Amazing. Thanks again.”

“Sure. Can’t let you walk around not knowing if you like sushi. That’s practically criminal.” Tony twirled his chopsticks between his fingers. “I’m glad you like it.”

Something soft and easy and comfortable settled between them, until Darby huffed her way between their chairs, sniffing loudly at the edge of the table and pressing against Steve’s leg with purpose. “Guess you’re angling for a walk, huh, sweetheart?”

“Or some salmon,” Tony suggested. He packed up the food while Steve got Darby’s jacket and leash on, and this time when Tony pulled his snow boots on to join them, Steve didn’t protest.

They were quiet for their walk, both putting their energy into digesting instead of talking. The walk helped, though, and by the time they got back to the apartment, Steve felt a little less like a balloon full of too much air. And raw fish.

They considered playing another level of their game, but in the end, they both admitted they were too tired to focus, so they put the TV on and sat with Darby between them again, petting her stomach while she snored, her head on Steve’s lap this time. Every time Tony’s fingers stroked through Darby’s fur in Steve’s direction, his heart leapt up, wondering if maybe this time they would swoop close enough to touch him. But they didn’t.

He barely registered the movie they watched, every ounce of his focus turned towards Tony, who sat calmly, clueless, at the other end of the couch. Steve eventually announced he was going to bed, earlier this time, and Tony yawned, then agreed. Steve fell into bed, exhausted, and even though his mind was racing with thoughts of Tony, he fell asleep right away.

**

When Steve woke, Tony was gone, and he stood in the doorway of the bedroom, scowling at the empty couch for longer than was necessary. His mood wasn’t improved when he found his phone jammed between the couch cushions, nearly dead. He’d been so distracted last night he’d forgotten to plug it in.

He let himself grump around for an hour before smacking some sense into himself and settling down with his art.

Steve expected Tony would just waltz in some time that evening but he didn’t come. Nor did he come the day after that. Steve didn’t even realize he was waiting for Tony to walk in the door until the fourth time he caught himself looking up at a noise in the hall, his heart leaping each time. But Tony didn’t show, and by midday, Steve was feeling twitchy and stressed out. He realized it had been three days since he’d gone for a run which was the longest he’d gone in a long time, so he pulled on his running shoes, sweatpants, and a hoodie and got out Darby’s leash. She was thrilled to go, bouncing by the door in excitement. Rhodes was a runner too, and Sam had explained that part of why he had adopted a dog was to have a running buddy, so Steve had high hopes that she could keep up.

It was still cold, but above freezing in the sun, and the snow on the sidewalks had melted with the aid of the grit trucks. Darby danced circles around Steve while he warmed up, watching his breath puff out in white clouds. They set off slow at first, but Darby eagerly pushed them on, straining at the end of her leash. Steve was happy to sink into the pace, his mind going blissfully quiet as he focused on the regular rhythm of his feet hitting the pavement. Darby finally slowed, the initial burst of energy worked off as she fell in step beside Steve. He looped the leash around his wrist getting a thrill from having a partner running beside him. Maybe he should get a dog for himself…

They were almost forty-five minutes away from Rhodey’s house when a sharp noise pulled Steve to a skidding halt. Darby had stopped with a yelp, the leash suddenly stretched taut between them. Steve turned, his heart sinking as she limped towards him, holding her left front foot off the ground whenever she stopped.

“Oh shit, shit, Darby, what happened?” Steve fell to his knees next to her and the cold, wet of the pavement immediately started seeping through his sweatpants. Darby whimpered and pressed up against him. Steve petted her soothingly, mind racing. He’d broken Rhodey’s dog, what kind of shitty dog sitter was he? He shouldn’t have taken her out in this weather, it was no wonder she slipped. He cursed, scratching his fingers through her fur to try and comfort her.

Steve stomped down the panic. Now wasn’t the time to stress about what it meant for him - it had happened, and he had to fix it. He cycled through his options. It was too far to carry her back to the apartment. He could call a cab to take them home, but he really needed to take her to a vet if she was hurt. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, steeled himself, and dialed Rhodes’ number. It was going to be an awkward phone call, but if it turned out Darby’s vet was nearby, that was their best bet.

The phone rang once then abruptly cut to voicemail. Steve swore again, under his breath. He looked around the street. No one was here. Midday in a commuter neighbourhood, and everyone was at work. Steve grit his teeth and shifted up onto his heels to get his now numb knees off the pavement. Darby sat beside him, panting heavily, still holding her paw up.

Steve scrolled through his phone, wondering what he should do. He was just about to give up and have a cab take him to the nearest animal hospital and hope to god they didn’t ask for payment right away, when he noticed a new number in his meagre list of contacts: “Tony”. He must have snuck Steve’s phone at some point last night. Steve couldn’t help smiling. It seemed a very Tony thing to do, to put his number in Steve’s phone without telling him and not ask for his number back. Steve checked his texts to see if Tony had texted him to get his number, but it didn’t look like he had. He was banking on Steve seeing his number by accident and deciding to call him. Though he probably hadn’t been expecting this…

Still, Tony was Rhodes best friend, he might know another way to get a hold of him. The phone rang three times before Tony picked up. “Hello?”

“Tony?”

“Steve? Wow, you found my number faster than expected. Not that I’m complaining.” There was noise in the background - people talking. “Couldn’t go two days without hearing my melodious voice, huh?” The voices quieted as if a door had been closed with them on the other side.

“No, sorry, I - I actually need your help. I was hoping you might know another way to get a hold of Rhodes? Darby hurt herself on our run, and I don’t know where to take her or - or -” A hot flush flooded Steve’s core as he realized he was babbling to a guy he’d just met. He opened his mouth again to rewind, but Tony cut him off.

“Where are you?”

“Parker Street and West Avenue,” Steve said, squinting at the signs.

“Give me ten minutes.”

“Tony? What -” But he had hung up. Steve stared at the phone in confusion. Maybe Tony was going to contact Rhodes and get back to him? Ten minutes was a long time to be stuck in the snow, with the sweat from running turning ice cold on Steve’s skin.

It wasn’t long before he was shivering. Darby was fine, with her fur, and Steve huddled close to her to stay warm. Eleven minutes after Tony had hung up, a back limo with heavily tinted windows pulled up to the curb. Steve looked at it curiously, wondering what such a fancy car was doing in this neighbourhood. Then the door popped open.

“Steve? You didn’t tell me you were outside, for fucks sake, get in! Happy turn up the heat.”

Steve gaped at Tony, but Darby hopped happily in the limo, pulling Steve in after. She climbed all over Tony and kissed his face despite her hurt foot. He laughed and hugged her, and Steve realized he was wearing a perfectly tailored, unbelievably expensive suit, and Darby was getting salt and snow and mud all over it. “Shit, sorry.” Steve pulled her back until she sat on the floor of the limo, but Tony just waved it off. Steve was still catching up on what the fuck Tony was doing here in a limo with a suit on and -

“Where to, Mr Stark?” the driver asked, and it all hit Steve like a ton of bricks.

“J, take us to the nearest vet.” The GPS sprung to life in the front seat and the driver, who Steve could only assume was Happy, pulled away from the curb, the divider sliding up as the drove.

“Tony Stark?!” Steve knew he was likely doing a spot-on impression of a surprised goldfish, but.. How?

Tony chuckled, and there was the hint of something uncomfortable under it. “Ta da.” He spread his arms wide then dropped both hands to Darby’s face as she leaned against him. “You really didn’t recognize me?”

“Your jeans had holes in them,” was the only thing Steve was able to splutter.

“The funny thing is, that’s what I normally look like. Publicity nonsense.” He waved a hand as if he could brush it away. “So what happened?” Tony looked down at Darby, running his hands over her.

“Her paw.” Steve blushed, embarrassed again. “We went for a run, which I shouldn’t have done with her in this weather, but she wanted to go so badly, and I guess I pushed her too hard because all of a sudden she was limping and whimpering. Ah, fuck, what if I broke Rhodey’s dog?” Steve ran a stiff hand through his hair. The heat had kicked in fully, but it hadn’t broken through to his core yet, merely reminding him how cold he was as it made his skin prickle and thaw.

“I’m sure it’s fine. We’ll get her all fixed up.”

Steve stared, watching Tony fuss over the dog. Tony Stark. He’d heard of him, of course - should have recognized him right away. He ran a massive, multi-million dollar company, there was all that fuss about changing the direction of it after his parents died… and he was unbelievably rich. He wouldn’t have believed it of the sloppy, grinning, slouching Tony of yesterday, but today, with his sharp suit and driver, it was painfully clear. Steve’s mind began helpfully replaying the last two days on repeat, going over and over every moment until each one became the new most embarrassing thing Steve had done or said before moving on to something else.

Steve had the urge to groan and curl up into a ball but he resisted, realizing too late that he’d been silent for several minutes now. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Tony waved it away. “I wasn’t doing anything fun anyway.”

That felt true, but it wasn’t lost on Steve that he had said, “fun,” and not, “important.” Steve squirmed while he imagined the meetings he might have pulled Tony out of. He was about to apologize again when Happy pulled up to the curb and Steve looked to see “Happy Paws Animal Clinic” painted on the window of a friendly looking storefront. Steve scooped Darby into his arms and climbed out of the limo, carrying her against his chest so she couldn’t hurt her foot more. He turned to thank Tony again, only to find him standing right behind him. He gestured them on, but Steve didn’t move. “You don’t have to come in. I’m sure you’re very busy.”

Something like worry or disappointment flashed across Tony’s face before he pasted a smile back on. “Better at least make sure they can fit you in.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Tony led the way in, holding the door open for Steve.

Luckily, it was a quiet day, and the receptionist said it would only be a few minutes before the vet could see them. Steve set Darby down carefully and sunk into one of the chairs. Tony sat down beside him, typing furiously on his phone. “Don’t you have to go back to work?” Steve asked.

Tony shrugged. “I own the company, Steve. Not like I can get in trouble for it.”

“I… I just don’t want to put you out. Or - or - is your driver okay there? He’s just going to wait?”

Tony set his phone down and caught Steve’s eye. “Do you want me to go?”

“I -” Steve stammered, surprised by the direct question. “No.. of course not. I just don’t want to keep you, if you have to go.”

“I don’t have to go.”

“Okay.” Steve was struck by how different this Tony was. He was sharper, crisper, smoother. And if Steve needed any more proof that he was crushing badly, it was that this other Work Tony was just as entrancing as the softer, sloppier Couch Tony he’d gotten to know over the last few days. He swallowed down the rush that followed that thought and forced himself to sit still in his chair without squirming. “Thanks.”

Tony looked up from his phone again and nodded. They sat in silence until the vet called them in. Tony followed Steve towards the exam room then his phone started blaring Black in Black and he peeled off, bringing it up to his ear. Steve left Tony to take his phone call and brought Darby into the exam room. The vet was a jovial man who spoke to Steve calmly and professionally, then amusingly, turned into a teenage girl who was seeing a guinea pig for the first time as soon as he bent down to examine Darby.

“Who’s a good girl?!” he asked her, and Darby wagged her tail appreciatively. The vet kept cooing and congratulating Darby on her excellentness while Steve explained what had happened. “Alright, I’m just going to get a tech to help me get some x-rays just in case, but it doesn’t feel broken to me. She likely just twisted it.”

Steve let out a heavy sigh of relief and collapsed into the plastic chair in the corner while the vet took Darby off to get the pictures taken. He ran a hand through his hair then had a new wave of anxiety when he realized how much this was going to cost. Bucky had talked about his dog’s vet bills and they were staggering, even when nothing was wrong. It was the only reason Steve didn’t have a dog of his own - there was no way he could afford it.

And Darby was getting x-rays… god, that was going to be awful. Steve’s stomach twisted as he went through his bank accounts in his head. There was no way… he’d have to ask if they had a payment plan, or something. And with Tony standing right there, no doubt. It was morifying. He could say he didn’t have his wallet because he’d been out for a run and that he’d come back and pay, and then when he came back alone, he could ask about a plan, so he wouldn’t have to go through all that with Tony there. Or maybe he’d get lucky and Tony would still be on the phone.

He had no such luck. When Darby came out of the back, wriggling with joy at seeing Steve again after their five minute period apart, the vet proclaimed her fit as a fiddle - just a mild strain, a day of rest and some mild anti-inflammatories, and she’d be just fine. Which was an intense relief, but when Steve brought her out to the front, he found Tony off the phone, leaning against the counter, waiting for them. His stomach twisted up again, half from embarrassment, and half from the striking image Tony made in his perfectly cut suit

“Good news?” he asked, bending over to pet Darby.

“Yup, she’s fine.” Steve looked at the receptionist, and his stomach twisted again. He opened his mouth to ask how much it would be when she smiled at him and gave a little wave.

“Thanks guys, have a good day. Bye, Darby!” She turned back to her computer, and Steve hung awkwardly for a moment.

“Come on,” Tony said, squinting at Steve. Steve took a few uncertain steps towards him and shot another look at the counter. Tony placed a hand on Steve’s lower back and drove him towards the door. Immediately, Steve’s entire brain zeroed in on the spot Tony was touching. “I already took care of it,” Tony said when they pushed through the door into the chilled air. The sun was brilliantly bright now, and Steve blinked away the spots on his eyes, trying to adjust.

“You - what? You didn’t have to do that.” Steve stopped to gape at him, and Tony pushed him again, urging him towards the car.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it, Steve.”

“But - I -” Steve wasn’t sure what to say, because the truth was, he really couldn’t have afforded the vet visit. He felt bad, he wished he could insist that he pay, but he couldn’t. And to Tony Stark, that was probably nothing. His shoelaces probably cost more. The thought just tied Steve up even tighter, worrying about this guy he liked and what he thought of Steve. Before, he’d at least thought they were on somewhat even ground. Sure, Tony could clearly afford a nice laptop and a nice watch, but that was like, a room-sized gap between them. Tony Stark was a football stadium-sized gap away. Probably more like thirty football stadiums, really.

“That was Rhodey on the phone,” Tony said when they were all settled in the car again. It took a moment for Steve’s brain to swing back into gear.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, he got my message from earlier. Told him what happened, and he said it was no big deal. She actually hurt that leg in basic training - it was part of the reason she was kicked out - and every now and then it flares up. He’s got some meds in the bathroom for her and promises she'll be right as rain in a day or two. Oh, and he said sorry, he should have warned you. But that you’re still welcome to run with her when she’s up for it. She loves it.”

“I - oh.” Steve was reeling from all the emotional backlash. The stress of seeing Darby hurt then finding out she was fine. The stress of the potential vet costs then finding out that was paid for. The… whatever it was of realizing he had a crush on Rhodes’ friend. Then finding out he was celebrity billionaire, Tony Stark. He rubbed his hand over his eyes, trying to wipe away some of the tension, and a small groan leaked out.

“You okay?”

“Oh yeah, sorry. It’s just - it’s been a bit of a wild day.”

Tony chuckled. “Fair enough.”

A hand landed on the back of Steve’s neck, lightly, just a touch, then it was gone, but Steve’s whole body tensed. He looked up, and Tony was looking at him oddly, kind of twisted, his hands clasped in his lap. Tony worried at his bottom lip for a moment, then opened his mouth and closed it again. Finally, he spoke, “It’s weird, isn’t it?”

“Sorry, what?”

“It’s weird. Finding out that I’m, you know, me. It’s weird. I should have told you before when you obviously didn’t recognize me.”

“No?” Unsurprisingly, Tony didn’t seem convinced. Steve started to elaborate, not sure what he was going to say, but feeling, somehow, that it was important, but the car lurched to a stop and Happy called out their arrival. Steve eased Darby out of the car and helped her limp her way up to the apartment, Tony trailing along behind them. They took the rickety, old elevator, instead of the stairs, and Steve couldn’t help but wrap his hand around the railing as they lurched upwards, only breathing again once the doors sprung open.

He expected Tony to peel off at any moment and disappear down to his limo, maybe never to be heard from again. But then again, he’d given Steve his number, so maybe he could text him? Call him? … Ask him out for coffee?

But Tony wandered into the apartment after him, shedding his coat and boots by the door.

“It’s not weird,” Steve said, and Tony snapped around to look at him. “I mean it’s kind of weird, but not in a bad way. I just - I like you both ways. Snappy suit and cell phone Stark, and sweatpants and trolls Tony.” Steve could feel his cheeks heating again - he hadn’t blushed this much since high school. “So yeah… it’s not weird.”

“Oh. Good.” Tony stared at him kind of wide-eyed, like Steve had said something stunning. Tony broke away to turn to the kitchen then stopped and took three quick steps across the room until he was standing directly in front of Steve. “Can we go back to - for a second - you like me?”

“Of course I do. I kept asking you to stay, didn’t I?”

“I guess. But you’re also quite possibly the most polite person on the planet. And I have a tendency to steamroll over people.”

Steve shuffled a little closer. He could feel the heat radiating off Tony’s chest, and his hands hung down by his hips, so close now that Steve could easily reach out and slip them into his. “You came to rescue me in a limo.”

Tony smiled, and his eyes dropped to the small strip of floor between them. “Well, yeah. You needed rescuing, and it was all I had on hand.”

“I -” Steve broke off, laughing. “You are something else.”

“In a good way?”

Steve nodded.

Tony shifted where he stood. They were so close. Steve should just - “I should probably stick around, make sure Darby is okay. And, you know, you. Cause of the shock.” Tony smirked.

“Don’t you have to go back to work?” Steve hoped it didn’t sound like that’s what he wanted.

Tony shrugged. “Whatever. I probably deserve a vacation. I haven't taken one since…” he trailed off, his brow creasing. “Uh - I don’t actually remember. I could ask Pepper…” He started fiddling with his phone, and Steve reached out to still his hand.

“It’s alright. I’m sure you deserve a vacation, if that’s what you want. I mean if you want to spend it with - Use it. Here, uh with me. If you want to hang out. More.” Steve realized his hand was still resting on Tony’s, and he pulled it back.

Tony tapped out a quick text, and Steve saw upside down on the screen that it was to Happy, sending him home for the day. Did that mean Tony was planning to spend the night? Would it be super awkward if Steve kissed him now? Now that Tony had no easy way to leave if it made him uncomfortable? Or maybe now was best, before they got sucked into something, and it could potentially ruin their night. Or maybe he shouldn’t at all. Was Tony even into guys? Was he into Steve?

“So what do you want to do?” Tony asked, and Steve’s brain answered, “KISS YOU,” so loudly, Steve actually found himself leaning forward, eyes dropping to Tony’s lips.

When he realized what he was doing, he snapped back, dropping his chin to stare at the carpet, mortified. Oh god, the only thing worse than an unwanted kiss was an awkward aborted kiss. He struggled to find the right words to say to excuse it, but before he could speak two fingers landed gently on his chin. Steve looked up in surprise, and Tony’s wide eyes fixed on his. There was hope, and a little desperation, in them, as Tony leaned in this time. And Steve met him halfway.

Their lips met, and they both pressed into it for a moment. Steve’s heart thrilled, his stomach doing high kicks up against his lungs. Tony’s nose was warm alongside his, and his fingers still rested on Steve’s jaw. It was perfect, exhilarating and soothing at the same time, somehow.

They pulled back, and Tony smiled brilliantly at him. That was all it took for Steve to find the courage to shift up against Tony and draw him in for a second, deeper kiss. Tony’s hand dropped from Steve’s cheek as their chests pressed together, and Steve reached forward and took both of Tony’s hands in his own, winding their fingers together. He used his height advantage to tilt Tony’s head back until their lips slotted together just right. A soft hum broke from Tony’s throat, and Steve swallowed it down, breaking the long, hard kiss into a series of small, needy ones.

When their breath ran out, both men rocked back, their hands clasped between them. “So I’m thinking…” Tony said softly, looking down at their joined hands, instead of meeting Steve’s eyes.

“Yes?” Steve tried not to sound as desperate as he was sure he did.

“Well… you probably don’t know where the good takeout places are around here.” Steve refrained from telling him Rhodey had pinned them to the fridge, shaking his head instead. Tony dropped one of Steve’s hands and brought his up to pinch the fabric of Steve’s shirt between two fingers. “And you probably don’t know that Rhodey’s shower sticks and if you want the water to stay hot you need to keep tugging the tap open again every few minutes.” Steve shook his head. Tony shuffled a little closer. “And you probably don’t know Darby’s cool tricks.” Steve shook his head again. Tony’s fingers released his shirt, stretching wide to press his palm against Steve’s stomach instead. Steve leaned into the contact. “So maybe I should stick around this week to show you those things?”

“Yes please.” They were so close, Steve’s lips brushed Tony’s as he spoke. Tony leaned forward against Steve's chest and kissed him again, soft, gentle.

“Besides…” Tony trailed off as he pulled Steve into a deeper kiss, the hand wound into Steve’s clenching and squeezing as he drew Steve as close as possible against his chest. Steve sunk into it, the adrenaline of their first kiss fading into pure happiness, warm and soothing. He could stay right here, like this, forever.

Steve registered that Tony had said something. “Hmm?”

Tony pulled back now, pressing one light kiss to Steve’s lips before rocking back on his heels with a wild grin. “Besides, we’ve got three Lord of the Rings movies we need to watch!”

Steve was pretty sure eleven hours would fly by with Tony there beside him.