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Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be

Chapter Text

A Most Rare Vision

Written by Christine Everhart

Girls spin in gilded cages high above an enthralled audience. Shadows dance upon the water in a sunken stage. Acrobats leap from the stage to the front row of seats, all without touching the floor. 

From the moment he first stepped into the Broadway scene, famed director Phil Coulson has challenged the law of nature to spin the most incredible tales. This almost ordinary-looking man doesn't look like he could revolutionize the theatrical world but revolutionize it he has. 

"I wouldn't call it revolutionizing," Coulson protests when he glances at my notes. "More of a reimagining." Reimagining seems to be what Coulson does best as he finishes the fifth show in what he calls Shakespeare Reimagined. Critics are lauding his latest play, a production of Hamlet featuring nothing but dogs, inspired.

What's next for the director? Coulson grins that sly smile of his. "A Midsummer NIght's Dream," he says. "And if you think what I've been doing so far is revolutionary, wait until you see this."

Chapter Text

Stark was late.

Coulson wasn’t terribly surprised. He’d been warned over and over again that Tony Stark was more than a bit of a diva. Coulson had read over Stark’s list of requirements and they were exactly what he’d expected. A box of German chocolates at the first meeting with a new director and a single Hershey’s bar at each subsequent meeting. Ice water kept at a crisp 2°C. A private dressing room that always smelled of lavender and chamomile. It wasn’t the most outlandish set of requirements Coulson had ever had to meet but it certainly wasn’t great.

Maria’s notes on Stark had included to expect a late arrival. Stark didn’t believe in promptness. She’d also warned him off of hiring Stark, said that he was more trouble than he was worth, but Coulson believed in making judgments for himself. Well, he reflected wryly, she was right about this much at least. Stark was now fifteen minutes late. She might be right about the rest of it too.

Even as he mused, Stark slid into seat across from him. “Traffic was a bitch,” he said by way of explanation.

Coulson glanced out at the empty street- unusual for New York but he’d picked the restaurant for that reason- but didn’t refute the claim. He slid the box of German chocolates he’d ordered across the table to Stark.

“The chocolates you requested,” he said evenly.

Stark eyed them distastefully. “Yeah,” he said with a grimace. “I don’t like to be handed things. Wasn’t that in your file?”

Coulson sat back, slightly surprised. Not so much that Stark didn’t like to be handed things- he supposed an actor as famous as him had to be cautious- but more that Stark knew about the file. It wasn’t that uncommon for a director to keep files on the actors they wanted to hire but it wasn’t as though it was advertised.

“How did you know-?”

“That you had a file?” Stark asked. He waved a dismissive hand. “I know everything.”

Coulson hummed noncommittally and then turned to Stark’s bodyguard- Happy, the file had called him- and handed him the box. Happy didn’t bother opening it, just tucked it under one massive arm. Coulson frowned, that frown only growing when Stark handed his water glass to a passing waiter.

“Your Italian roast coffee,” Stark requested. “Might as well bring the pot.”

“Mr. Stark-”

“Tony,” Stark interrupted. “Mr. Stark was Howard. Call me Tony.”

Again, Coulson was slightly surprised, this time at the vitriol in Stark’s- Tony’s-voice. It seemed that Tony didn’t hold much love for his famous father. Not that Coulson could really blame him. He’d met Howard Stark, famed producer, only once and that had been one time too many. Coulson refused now to go anywhere near the man. Still though, it was unprofessional to refer to the actor he’d just met by his first name, even if he would agree to think of him that way.

“Mr. Stark,” he began again. “Why ask for the water if you aren’t going to drink it?”

Tony shrugged too casually, seeming to not care that Coulson refused to call him by his first name. There was a calculating gleam in his eyes. “I’m going to put in a lot of work to make this vision of yours true. I want to know if you’ll meet me halfway.”

Coulson threw out everything Hill had ever said about Tony. This was no vapid diva, concerned more with his appearance than his performance. This was a shrewd businessman who knew exactly what he was worth and how to make sure he wasn’t taken advantage of.

The waiter arrived to take their orders. Coulson ordered the chicken Caesar salad. Tony attempted to order a cheeseburger but Happy stopped the waiter and ordered him a grilled chicken sandwich instead, saying that someone named Pepper (Stark’s closest friend? Coulson had heard rumors that Tony called Virginia Potts “Pepper”) would have his head if he kept letting Tony eat so unhealthily. Tony pouted for the briefest of moments but seemed to shake it off fairly easily, far more easily than Coulson would have thought from a renowned diva.

He gave the actor another quick onceover. Though still young, Tony exuded fashion in a way that few young actors did, the autumnal colors of his coat and hat- now handed to Happy- setting off his complexion nicely. But while the outfit was elegant, it wasn’t gaudy. The fabrics, though nice, were simple, nothing like what he would have thought from the Tony everyone knew. Coulson’s imagination sparked, draping Tony in those same colors but now in silks and with a hint of gold shimmering in the threads and that same mischievous look lurking in the corners of his eyes. Yes, he thought, Tony Stark was perfect for this role.

Tony shifted under his gaze. Coulson didn’t think it was nerves- all reports claimed that Tony was bordering on arrogantly self-confident- but he didn’t know what else it could be.

Leering, Tony said, “I think that kind of look should be reserved for the bedroom, don’t you?”

Coulson recognized the tease for what it was though and he merely smiled. “I have a role for you, Mr. Stark,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.”

“I only take interesting roles,” Tony challenged. “I’ve heard what you’re working on. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What’s so interesting about that?”

Coulson smiled again, self-assured in his own abilities. “Oh I think you’ll find it pretty interesting.”

Tony scoffed. “Doubtful. I know your work, Coulson. Been watching you since you came on the scene. Your costumes? Jaw-dropping. The sets? Amazing. The stunts? Terrifyingly realistic. But the characters? Mediocre. The acting is superb but you don’t add anything new to them. They’re repeats of what came before.” Coulson opened his mouth to protest, stung by Tony’s cruel comments. Tony stood however, buttoning his coat. “Thanks for the meeting. Lunch is on me.”

Happy threw a few bills down on the table and the two turned to go. Coulson waited until they were almost to the door before calling after him, “Why did Oberon change his mind?”

Tony stopped, turning slightly. “Sorry?”

Coulson spread his hands. “You heard me,” he said mildly. “Why did Oberon change his mind? He had what he wanted but he’d said some cruel things about his queen, mocked her so, you’d think he would never lift the spell. But he changed his mind. Why?”

“Fairies are capricious,” Tony said, though he sounded far more uncertain than he had previously. “Fickle.”

“Perhaps,” Coulson allowed. “But I don’t think so. Not Shakespeare’s fairies. There are a few- very few- instances of a fairy acting fickle in this play and only one is Oberon. So why change his mind?”

Tony walked back to the table, sitting down again. “You tell me,” he said.

“Don’t you know everything?” Coulson remarked, irrationally wanting revenge for Tony’s comments of a minute before. “Puzzle it through.”

Tony was silent for a long moment, during which time their food arrived. His mouth twisted at the sight of the vegetables on his plate but he didn’t complain. Finally, he said quietly, “Maybe he didn’t change his mind.”

He glanced up at Coulson quickly as though checking to see if he was on the right track. Coulson nodded encouragingly. “Maybe,” he continued slowly, as though thinking his theory through, “his mind was changed for him.”

“How?” Coulson asked sharply, inwardly delighted that Tony was grasping this so quickly.

“The flower. The one used on Demetrius and Lysander.”

“Who would have done that?”

Tony’s nose twitched. He reached into his coat and pulled out a slim book. A copy of the play, Coulson noted approvingly. Tony leafed through it and Coulson could see annotations on quite a few of the pages. Proof, he thought, that Tony had been taking this offer more seriously than he’d seemed.

“Puck’s the only one who would have the ability to,” Tony mused.

“Why would Puck do that?” Coulson prompted.

“For fun?” Tony guessed. “He is a trickster.”

“A prank on his king?” Coulson asked. “Why? Everything he’s done up to this point has been in the name of his king, for his king. Why would he play such a trick on his king?”

“If not for fun,” Tony said, “then why?” His brow wrinkled confusedly and Coulson decided to take pity on him.

“I think that, if Puck is the one who causes Oberon to fall back in love with Titania, then it’s because he knows that the fairy king must love the fairy queen.”

“Is Oberon not in love with Titania?”

“Maybe not. Maybe he fell in love with someone else. Maybe he acted on those feelings.”

Coulson fell silent, silently willing Tony to understand. He was rewarded when clarity shone in Tony’s eyes a moment later.

“Puck,” Tony stated. “You think he fell in love with Puck.” He looked at Coulson with new appreciation. “That’s brilliant. I’d call you a genius but I’m here.”

Coulson smiled a bit at the casual arrogance Tony wore like a jacket. Instead of rising to Tony’s bait, he said, “I want to offer you the role of Puck.”

Tony looked taken aback. “Really?” he asked. “Puck? Not Lysander or Bottom? You know those are the roles I’m usually cast in.”

“Not Lysander or Bottom. Puck.”

Tony studied him for a long minute, eyes narrowed. Coulson wondered what he was thinking under those dark curls. Then, abruptly, Tony asked, “Who will you go to if I refuse?”

Coulson knew that this was not usually done but he had never once seen anyone else as his Robin Goodfellow. Honestly, he admitted, “No one.”

“You never considered another actor?”

Coulson shrugged. “Didn’t see the point.”

“That sure I’d say yes?”

He met Tony’s gaze evenly. “Are you?” he asked.

Tony studied him a moment longer and then flashed him a brilliant smile. “Yes.” He stood once more, motioning for Happy to hand him his hat. “On one condition, Coulson. I want to be at the auditions for Oberon. I want to approve your choice.”

Coulson stood as well and nodded. “I expected nothing less.”

“And one last thing,” Tony said, holding out a hand to stop him though it hovered just above his arm. “Really. Call me Tony.”

Coulson smiled blandly. “Of course, Mr. Stark.”

Chapter Text

Steve woke to the sound of his phone ringing. This in itself was not unusual. Steve was in high demand as a multi-Academy Award winner and he often awoke to a ringing phone, usually some fresh-faced director sure that Steve’s name would catapult them into stardom themselves.

What was unusual was that his phone quit ringing as he was wiping the sleep from his eyes and then immediately started up again. He sighed. It was probably Phillips with another period role for him.

Steve hadn’t meant to end up as typecasted- few actors did- but sometime after his second Oscar for his portrayal of some military hero, people had become convinced that those were the only roles he was capable of playing. Now, after last year when he’d won yet another award for playing a young heroic captain in a World War II drama, period pieces were the only films Phillips offered him.

It wasn’t that Steve didn’t like the period pieces. They could be a lot of fun. It was more that he was only twenty-seven years old. It was ridiculous that he could only manage to get one type of role. Surely, there was more out there than stuffy war dramas.

The phone quit ringing just as he picked it up. Steve had just enough time to see that he’d missed six calls from Phillips before the seventh came through. Steve groaned and pressed the answer button.

“What are you doing with your ass still in bed, Rogers?” Phillips growled. Phillips was a retired Army colonel, now turned agent to the stars for reasons unknown (though Steve suspected they had something to do with Phillips’ deceased daughter, an actress who’d died of a drug overdose).

“Good morning to you too, Colonel,” Steve sighed.

“Your plane leaves in an hour and you’re still in bed,” Phillips said, biting the words out.

Steve sat up, confused. “My plane?”

“Yes, Rogers. Your plane. You’ve got an audition in New York tomorrow.”

“New York?”

“Are you going to repeat everything I say or are you going to get your ass moving?” Phillips barked the last word out and Steve was startled into gear. He put the phone on speaker, tossing it onto the bed as he dressed.

“Why do I have an audition in New York?” he asked, grabbing his brown leather jacket from the closet. It had been his grandfather’s and Steve loved the ratty old thing. His publicist despaired of it every time he saw the jacket, complaining loudly about how there were other, more fashionable, coats Steve could (should) be wearing. But Steve refused to let it go for anything and now he wore it specifically because it irritated his publicist.

“Weren’t you complaining just last week that you wanted to act on Broadway and do ‘something more with your life?’” Phillips demanded. Steve could hear the air quotes he’d thrown around those last few words. He did indeed vaguely recall saying something like that. But, in his defense, he’d been fairly drunk and certain that Phillips wouldn’t take him seriously. He made a noncommittal noise but Phillips seemed to take it as assent and continued, “If you’re going to throw your career away and prance about on some stage, then I’ll be damned if you’ll do it for anyone worse than Phil Coulson.”

Steve paused in the middle of brushing his teeth. “Coulson’s casting?” he asked cautiously.

Phillips snorted. “Yeah. One of those Shakespeare Reimagined plays.”

Steve grinned. He’d been to see all of Coulson’s Shakespeare Reimagined plays, from Hamlet with dogs to The Tempest in a sunken, water-filled stage. He really enjoyed seeing how Coulson would subvert society’s views on William Shakespeare. The chance to act in one of them was a private dream of his.

“Which play?” he asked.

There was a soft rustling as though Phillips was checking his notes. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he said finally. “I’ve got you auditioning for Demetrius.”

Steve nodded absently. He only vaguely remembered reading the play for literature class in middle school. He’d have to pick up a copy at the airport to read on the flight.

“Demetrius,” he murmured. “That’s one of the-”

“Lovers, yes. Barnes and Wilson are auditioning with you,” Phillips continued. Steve’s grin grew broader. He’d have both of his closest friends with him.

“Steve, listen,” Phillips said. Steve froze, locking his front door. It was rare, very rarer, for Phillips to call him by his first name. “There are rumors that Coulson’s got Tony Stark attached to this project.”

Frowning, Steve tried to remember where he’d heard the name. Stark certainly wasn’t a film actor. “And Stark is…?”

“Broadway royalty,” Phillips answered. “His father, Howard, is a producer; his mother, Maria, one of Broadway’s greatest actresses. Incredibly versatile. Think Maria from West Side Story, Éponine in Les Miserables, even Christine from Phantom of the Opera. And let’s be real, those are not similar roles. But she’s done them and she’s damn good at it.”

“And you’re warning me about Stark because why?”

“Because Tony Stark is good. The problem is, he knows it. Thinks of himself as a pretty, pretty princess. Just about everyone who’s worked with Stark calls him a diva.”

Steve snorted, thinking it funny hearing the word in Phillips’ no-nonsense voice. “You know, there are some people who’d call me the same.” Steve supposed it was true, if one considered anyone who demanded perfection a diva.

Phillips sighed. “Rogers, there are very few people who have anything nice to say about Stark. He’ll make a production excellent and he’ll make everyone’s lives miserable in the process.”

“Thanks for telling me, Colonel. But I think I can make my own judgments for myself. Tony Stark can’t possibly be that bad.”

Chapter Text

Steve took another quick glance over his monologue. Coulson’s instructions had mentioned preparing two monologues- one Shakespearean and one not- as opposed to the usual one. Already, this audition was shaping up to be unlike one he’d ever been to before. For one thing, Coulson was known for personally vetting everyone who wanted to audition before they could even step foot in the door, cutting down the number of people auditioning from somewhere in the thousands to a few hundred. For another, Coulson apparently didn’t believe in individual auditions. Everyone was crammed into the auditorium together, separated by the role they were auditioning for with flags denoting each section. Back when Steve still had to audition (sometime after his first Academy Award, the auditions had stopped, giving way to directors treating him to lunch instead), everyone had sat together outside but the auditions themselves had been private, not like this where everyone would be able to see everyone else’s tryouts.

And then there were the two monologues.

Steve was pretty sure he knew what that was about. He’d seen plenty of performances of Hamlet or The Tempest or Romeo and Juliet, perfectly grammatically correct performances with the right pentameter and everything but lacking the heart of the show. Shakespeare wasn’t easy to perform and if someone couldn’t even act out something non-Elizabethan then how could they be expected to perform the Bard? Still, it was a little strange.

He had done as asked, prepared one speech from Henry V and one from Rent. He felt pretty confident about his ability to recite both; he just wasn’t sure about his ability in relation to the other actors. There were quite a few auditioning for Demetrius, including a veteran actor Steve had last seen as Coulson’s Othello, James Rhodes. Steve thought Rhodes might be too old for the role of Demetrius- the man was nearly thirty- but such experience was formidable.

A hush fell over the assemblage. Steve turned in his seat to see Phil Coulson himself walking down the center aisle. Beside him walked Nick Fury, the producer for all of Coulson’s shows. Behind the pair was a younger couple, perhaps college age, both heavily laden down with binders and folders. Probably Coulson’s assistants.

Steve dismissed them to focus back on Coulson. He’d seen the director before at past shows but that had been from a distance. This close, he could note the expensive cut of Coulson’s suit, the uneven fringe of hair across his forehead, and the bright, intelligent eyes.

Coulson caught sight of James Rhodes, sitting near Steve and gave him a sharp nod.

“Coulson,” Rhodes said politely.

“James,” Coulson returned.

The male assistant scowled and then called, “How come you’ll call Rhodey by his first name but not me?”

“Because, Mr. Stark, your pain amuses me,” Coulson said evenly.

Stark threw his head back and laughed. For the first time, Steve turned his attention to him because, clearly, he was no assistant for all that he was carrying a stack of folders half as tall as he was and-

Oh.

No one had told him Tony Stark was beautiful. That wasn’t an adjective Steve often used in relation to men but it was the only word he could possibly use to describe him. From his casual elegance to his flawless complexion to his fluffy hair to his big brown eyes, Stark was perfection incarnate. Then the small group passed Steve’s row and he got a look at Stark’s back and, good lord, that ass. It was perfectly outlined by the tight grey suit pants he wore and all Steve could think was that it would fit perfectly in his hands.

Damn but he wanted Tony Stark.

Mentally, he groaned. Steve had known since he was thirteen that he was equally attracted to both men and women when he had kissed Bucky on his birthday. It was supposed to have been a joke but Steve had learned that he was bisexual. Bucky had learned he was (tragically in Steve’s opinion) straight.

It had been ten years since then and he was still just as bi though he tended to date women these days. It was hard for a man in an open relationship with another man to get roles in military dramas. Steve doubted that he had ever had such a visceral reaction to a man.

And it was such a bad idea.

Steve didn’t believe in dating one’s coworker and if he was very, very lucky that’s exactly what Stark would be. Breakups could be messy- or, at least, his were. He didn’t want to take the chance of ruining the play by dating Stark.

Coulson was speaking again, still to Stark, as he ushered Fury and his assistant into the empty row near the front. “I assume you already know Puck’s merry wanderer monologue.” From his seat, Steve could just barely see the sarcastically raised eyebrow Stark gave him in response. Coulson smiled blandly. “Go,” he said, jerking his head at the stage.

Stark nodded, beginning to back away slowly. He spun on his heel and, as he did, Steve saw Stark melt away into Puck. A mischievous light gleamed in his eyes. That lovely eyebrow stayed arched. But most intriguing was his walk. Steve couldn’t have said what it was but it no longer appeared- well, human. It wasn’t Tony Stark stalking towards the stage but the fairy Puck. It was Puck who suddenly broke into a run, full on sprinting towards the stage. It was Puck who swiped one of the flagpoles, planted it firmly on the ground, and vaulted over the orchestra pit, tucking himself neatly into a roll as he hit the stage and coming up on his feet.

Steve adjusted his jacket over his lap.

“Thou speak’st aright,” Puck said slyly, talking to the back of the stage. Then he turned his head to the side, peeking at the enraptured audience. “I am that merry wanderer of the night.” It was supposed to be a concession, bowing to the other fairy’s rightness, but it sounded mocking like he couldn’t believe it had taken them so long. He turned fully and swept himself into a curtsy.

“I jest to Oberon,” here a nod to the actors auditioning for Oberon, “and make him smile, when I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile, neighing in likeness of a filly foal.” He whinnied, a near-perfect likeness of a horse. His eyes lit upon a man in the audience drinking from a water bottle and a smirk spread across his face. He slunk across the stage and down the side steps, murmuring as he went, “And sometimes lurk I in a gossip’s bowl, in very likeness of a roasted crab, and when she drinks, against her lips I bob and on her withered dewlap pour the ale.” Abruptly, he reached out and tipped the bottle over, spilling it all down the man’s front. The man’s eyes flashed but Puck danced backwards, wagging his finger.

His gaze roved over the audience, alighting for the briefest second on Steve. They started to move on and then jerked back. Puck’s lips parted slightly followed by one side curling up. Steve held his breath as Puck prowled towards him and then he was sliding into his lap, straddling him. Steve clenched his hands at his side, willing them not to rise to Puck’s waist.

“The wisest aunt,” Puck purred, gently stroking his face and leaning closer, “telling the saddest tale, sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me; then slip I from her bum, down topples she, and “tailor” cries, and falls into a cough; and then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh; and waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear a merrier hour was never wasted there.”

Their faces were mere inches apart but the smile suddenly slid from Puck’s face. He pushed Steve back, leaping from his lap, accidentally (or perhaps not so accidentally? It seemed like a Puckish thing to do) kneeing his groin. Steve yelped but Puck didn’t seem to notice.

Instead he said, “But, room, fairy! Here comes Oberon.”

In the next instant, Puck was gone and Stark stood there once more. “Sorry,” he whispered, glancing down at where Steve was clutching himself.

“It’s fine,” Steve tried to reassure him but he thought it didn’t quite work when Stark winced. It was more of a wheeze.

Coulson was standing again and Stark slipped away to take his seat. “That, ladies and gentlemen,” Coulson said as he took the stage, “is exactly what I want to see in a Shakespearean performance. If you’re going to stand there and recite verse at me, then I might as well just hire a bunch of middle schoolers.”

“Or you could hire Hammer,” Stark called. There were quite a few laughs from the others, mostly the experienced actors. The man Stark had poured water on scowled and started to rise.

Before he could, Coulson yelled, “Settle down.” Steve was interested to note though that he was hiding a smile. “Mr. Stark,” he started to warn and Stark held up his hands.

“Got it,” he said cheerfully. “I will not make anymore rude comments about Hammer’s abilities, however true they may be.”

There were more titters. Coulson, however, moved on. “Point being, if you’re going to give me these lines in verse then you might as well walk out now.” He paused to let the few people stand and leave. “As for the rest of you, auditions begin now. You’ll be asked to come up here and perform your two monologues. Start with the non-Shakespearean one. You can leave once you’re done or you can stay to the end. I’ll post the callback list to the stage door tomorrow morning and callbacks will be the day after. If I ask you to return, have a speech by your character prepared. Now, I believe Nick has some words he’d like to say.”

Fury stood, choosing not to come up to the stage. He glared at the assembled performers. Steve realized that one of his eyes was filmed over. Apparently, he was blind in one eye.

“Listen up,” he said, not bothering to speak up as everyone was listening intently. “I’m paying a lotta money to put this show on so you better be prepared to put all your effort into this. If you don’t think you can do that, if you don’t think you can put all your time into this play, then get out of this theater ‘cause I don’t even want to see you audition.”

Someone laughed, maybe thinking he was joking. But Fury whirled around, glaring ferociously. “Did you think I was joking?” he growled. “Get out.” The actress in question slowly stood and Steve could see that she was wondering if he was actually serious. Fury just said, “I’m not kidding here. Leave.” The girl scurried away, trying to stifle a sob. A long silence dwelled after her exit and then another few people stood and left.

Fury turned back to Coulson, evidently satisfied. “I leave this in your capable hands, Phil. Impress me.” He stepped neatly over Stark’s outstretched legs and left.

Coulson nodded briskly and stepped back to his seat. “Auditions begin now. Let’s start with Philostrate, shall we?”

Each individual audition was over within seconds. The actors wouldn’t get through more than two or three lines of their monologues before Coulson would call for them to move on to their next speech. They’d get through the first few lines of that one and then Coulson would ask them to stop and get down from the stage. There were a few actors that Coulson would allow to get through five or six lines but there were just as many that he asked to leave immediately following their first monologue.

Steve tried hard to pay attention to the auditioning performers but his attention kept drifting over to focus on Tony Stark. He wasn’t sure what was so magnetic about the younger actor but he couldn’t seem to drag his eyes from him. Stark was certainly paying more attention to the performers than he was, scribbling as many notes as Coulson did about each performance. Occasionally, Stark would lean over and whisper in Coulson’s ear. Each time, Coulson absently nodded and made an additional note on his paper. These corresponded with the actors Coulson cut off early or let linger.

They got through the auditions for entire court and the mechanicals before taking a thirty-minute break for lunch. Steve was supposed to meet up with Sam and Bucky for during the break but Stark stepped in front of him before he could leave.

“Hi,” Stark said quietly.

Ahead of him, he saw Bucky and Sam pause at the auditorium door. Steve waved at them to go on without him. Then he looked down at Stark, realizing that the man was tiny. He’d fit perfectly tucked up against him- or under him.

“Don’t go there, Steve,” he muttered to himself. Stark frowned at him. Steve shook his head slightly and said warmly, “Hi. Steve Rogers. Call me Steve.”

“Tony Stark. Call me Tony,” Tony returned. “Wanted to apologize again for, you know.”

“Really, it’s fine,” Steve said. “No permanent damage.”

Tony grinned, looking away briefly. “Any temporary?”

Steve laughed. “None at all. You’ll have to work harder to get me to sing soprano.”

Tony honest-to-god giggled. Steve ducked his head, hiding both his blush and his pleasure at making Tony laugh like that. When he looked back up, he found Tony studying him curiously.

“So you’re auditioning for Demetrius?” Tony asked. There was an intense note to his voice, like it really mattered to him what Steve’s answer was.

Steve nodded. “Yeah. It was my agent’s recommendation.”

Tony looked slightly disappointed. “That’s a shame,” he murmured.

Steve had no idea why that was a shame but he shrugged. Tony started to walk away but Steve had one more question for him. “Why did you- you know?” he asked, a little unwilling to actually say that Tony had sat on his lap.

Tony glanced over his shoulder. “Maybe because Puck is a versatile character and I wanted to show as many facets of his character as I could,” he said easily. Then he flashed Steve a devilish grin. “Or maybe I just wanted to sit in your lap.” Before Steve could think of an answer, he sashayed out of the theater.

Steve sighed as he watched those pretty hips move. “Don’t bother,” someone said next to him. He jumped before turning to see Rhodes.

Rhodes smiled ruefully. “Tony flirts with everyone. Easy as breathing to him, rarely even realizes he’s doing it. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“It could,” Steve said hopefully. If Rhodes could see, plain as day, that he was interested then he saw no reason to hide it.

“It doesn’t,” Rhodes said, though not unkindly. “See, Tony doesn’t date multiple people at the same time.”

“Oh,” Steve said. He knew it was irrational to be disappointed, he’d only known Tony for a few minutes, but he was anyway. “You?”

Rhodes snorted. “God, no. Tony’s like a brother to me. No, he started going out with this guy a few weeks ago.” He patted Steve’s shoulder, seeming to recognize his disappointment. “Don’t take it personally. Happens to just about everyone.”

He left, leaving Steve there a little dumbfounded. What did he mean, it happened to everyone? Simply that Tony flirted with everyone? Or that everyone had a crush on him? He groaned, wondering if he’d done the wrong thing when he’d left California. He sighed again and walked out to join Bucky and Sam.

Neither of them asked him what that whole thing had been about though Steve was sure that they wanted to. Those two were the nosiest busybodies he’d ever known. He figured they were probably just waiting until that night when they had a little more time and privacy. Steve didn’t mind though, occupied as his thoughts were with Tony.

Lunch was over far sooner than he would have liked and, almost before he knew it, they were heading back to the theater. Having finished the auditions for the court and the mechanicals before lunch, Sam left them at the entrance, letting them know that he’d meet them that evening for dinner. He was only auditioning for a small role and, as a newer actor, didn’t know yet that he should probably stay for all the auditions. Steve was all for letting him know that it was wise to stay, to learn more about the actors he might be working with, but Bucky shook his head.

“Let him make his own mistakes,” he muttered. “He wouldn’t listen anyway.” Steve glanced sidelong at him, thinking that Bucky and Sam’s rivalry was famous. Bucky only grinned. “You wouldn’t have listened either at his age.”

“He’s only a few years younger than us,” Steve told him but he conceded the point and followed Bucky inside.

The auditorium was noticeably emptier. Clearly, only a few people had thought it important to stay. It didn’t seem to bother Coulson thought and he picked up the tryouts with the auditions for the lovers, starting with Helena. Steve watched intently as the girls, one of who might be his lover in the play, each came up to read through their monologues. Now, Coulson allowed them to speak a little longer, tending more to cut them off after the five-line mark. Contrary to the morning, Tony no longer paid as much attention though he still made a few notes. From Helena, they moved on to Lysander and then Hermia and, finally, Demetrius.

Steve really paid attention to these performers, knowing that they would be his competitors. He thought that a few were very good, certainly worrisome. On the other hand, there were also many who didn’t look or sound good at all. He almost wondered how they’d been let in through the door. As he’d done with everyone else, Coulson let a few linger and cut off even more before they could really get going, but mostly he let run their natural course.

Then it was Steve’s turn.

He stood, fixed his jacket, and walked to the stage. “Good afternoon,” he began, same as everyone else. “My name is Steve Rogers. I’ll be auditioning for the role of Demetrius.”

Coulson waved a hand for him to begin but Steve had gotten no more than a few sentences into his first monologue before he said, “Thank you. Can I hear your next one?”

Relieved that he’d made it past the first speech, he grinned and nodded. He launched into the “once more unto the breach” monologue and what was surprising was this- both Coulson and Tony sat up and leaned forward, nearly as one. Steve knew that he was good at motivational speeches (it was what made him so good as a period actor) but this was an unprecedented level of interest from the director and actor. He reached the five-line mark, then the ten, then he lost count as they let him keep speaking. He nearly forgot the lines, so shocked was he. But he recovered and kept going until he had cried the last lines.

There was a moment of silence as Steve finished. Neither Coulson nor Tony seemed to have realized he was done speaking. Suddenly, Tony shook himself and leaned over to Coulson to whisper something to him.

Coulson nodded dazedly. “Thank you, Mr. Rogers,” he said eventually. “You may be seated.”

Steve walked back to his seat in a slight haze, barely noticing the resentful glares he received from the other actors. He had no clue what had caught Coulson’s interest but it was either very good or very bad. He hoped it was very good.

Caught up in his thoughts, he barely noticed the other auditions. He did catch the unusual interest Tony displayed in the auditions for Oberon. Even that, however, only vaguely registered with him.

By the end of the day, his thoughts were spinning and he almost missed Coulson asking him to stay when he dismissed everyone else. He remained seated as people shuffled out around him. Bucky patted his shoulder gently. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he promised.

When everyone was gone, Coulson called, “Mr. Rogers, come here please.” Steve made his way across the empty theater to stand in front of him. Coulson studied him for a long moment. Steve straightened up under such scrutiny.

After a minute, he nodded as though satisfied by what he’d seen and dropped his gaze to the papers in front of him. Steve was startled to realize that it was his headshot and resume, covered in scribbled notes. “Demetrius,” Coulson began, “is a lover. But you picked a monologue from Henry V. It’s an unusual choice. Why’d you do it?”

Steve shuffled his feet. “Demetrius has the approval of Egeus. I thought maybe it was because he was a military man.”

Coulson made a noncommittal noise. “Can you give me a lover’s speech?” he asked.

Steve thought about that for a second. He was fairly unfamiliar with Shakespeare who didn’t really translate well to Hollywood but he’d pored over his copy of the play on the plane yesterday. By now, he knew it pretty well.

“Welcome, good Robin,” he began, hesitantly at first and then warming up to his speech. “See’st thou this sweet sight? Her dotage now I do begin to pity-”

“That’s enough,” Coulson interrupted. “Oberon’s speech? You think that’s the speech of a lover?”

There was an odd gleam in his eyes that Steve didn’t think he liked. He nodded, now unsure of himself. “Why else would he lift the spell?”

Coulson tilted his head back appraisingly. “Stark,” he said, raising his voice. “You may be right.”

Steve jerked his head around to see Tony, leaning against the doorway. He hadn’t thought there was anyone still in the auditorium. Tony smirked, saying dryly, “Imagine that. Did you tell him yet?”

Coulson shook his head. “Getting there.” He turned back to Steve. “Mr. Rogers, I like your work a lot. I think you do a good job on just about everything you do. But I’m not sure about your interpretation of Demetrius. I think you’d do a good performance of him.” He paused and then said, “I’m looking for a great one.”

Steve, sensing that his opportunity to act in one of Coulson’s plays was slipping through his fingers, hurried to say, “I can do a different interpretation.”

Coulson only held up his hand to stop him from continuing. “Stark back there though wants you in this show. So I’ll let you bring in this other interpretation of Demetrius for the callbacks- if you’ll bring in a monologue for Oberon as well.”

Too grateful for the second chance to really consider the offer, Steve said immediately, “I’ll do it.”

“Then I look forward to seeing you in two days. Have a nice evening.”

Steve hurried away before Coulson had a chance to change his mind. As he left, he looked for Tony to thank him but the man was nowhere to be seen.

Chapter Text

Bucky waited until they were almost back to the hotel before pulling Steve into a side-alley off the main road. “Are you gonna rob me?” Steve joked but Bucky just gave him a sharp glare.

“What happened today?” Bucky asked.

Steve widened his eyes innocently. “What do you mean? Nothing happened.”

Bucky growled. “Don’t bullshit me, Stevie. Stark wants to talk to you in private at lunch and then Coulson does the same thing after auditions. You may be distracted by Stark’s pretty ass but I’m not. I can see something’s going on and I want to know what.”

Sighing, Steve stepped back and said truthfully, “Tony just wanted to apologize for his performance and Coulson just wanted to talk about my interpretation of Demetrius.”

He hoped that Bucky would accept the oversimplified explanation. No such luck though. Bucky raised an eyebrow. “’Just?’” he repeated. “Did you forget I’ve known you since we were in diapers? There’s no just about any of this. What really happened?”

“Tony really did want to apologize for sitting on me. We flirted a bit and he asked me who I was auditioning for. Thought it was a shame that I was trying for Demetrius.”

“You flirted with him? And he flirted back?” Surprisingly, Bucky sounded annoyed by that fact.

“Well I don’t know what else to call it.”

“Jesus, Steve!” Bucky groaned. “You know the man’s got a reputation a mile long, right?”

“Yes,” Steve said, drawing out the word. He thought he could see where this was going.

“And you thought you’d get messed up in something like that?”

Yep, exactly where he’d thought it was going.

“Look, I know he’s got a reputation- though I can’t imagine why. He seemed sweet when I talked to him.”

“You can’t make a judgment call on five minutes,” Bucky said flatly. He leaned against a wall of the alley, Steve mirroring the movement opposite him.

“Why not?” Steve challenged. He crossed his arms huffily. “Isn’t that what an audition is, a five-minute judgment call?”

Bucky snorted softly. “It’s not the same thing and you know it. I’ve been talking to the other actors auditioning and they all say the same thing: Tony Stark is bad news, everyone knows it.”

“Is he now?” Steve demanded. He didn’t know why he was suddenly so defensive over Tony but he was. He suspected that it had something to do with the fact that the entire world seemed to be against him. He’d always liked the little guys, the ones no one wanted to root for. “You know why Coulson wanted to see me? To tell me that he didn’t think my interpretation of Demetrius was going to work for his play. I thought he was going to tell me not to bother coming back in two days but turns out Tony told him to give me another shot ‘cause he thinks I’d be perfect for Oberon.”

To his surprise though, Bucky didn’t seem impressed by this. His jaw dropped and he scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “Tell me you aren’t this naïve. Please- just don’t be this stupid.”

“What?” Steve asked.

“Come on, Steve,” Bucky pleaded. “You’ve gotta see it. Stark flirts with you-”

“Doesn’t matter if he flirted with me or not,” Steve grumbled. “He’s seeing someone.”

Bucky threw up his hands in exasperation. “That just makes it even worse! He flirts with you, doesn’t like that you’re auditioning for Demetrius, and then Coulson just magically decides that you’re not right for that role,” he stated, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “But oh! Stark thinks you’re great so he’ll let you try again if you’ll audition for what Stark wants you to do. And you don’t think that’s suspicious at all?”

Put like that, it did seem a little off. Steve opened his mouth but Bucky kept talking. “I mean, really, Stevie? We all saw your performance. Coulson didn’t cut you off at all, not like the rest of us. He was practically salivating at the thought of having you in his show. But then he says he doesn’t think you’re a good fit? Please.”

The worst thing was, Steve could see exactly what Bucky was saying. Tony had very neatly manipulated him into the role he wanted Steve in.

“But why?” he said quietly, dejected now that he had realized what was going on.

Bucky cast a pitying look at him. “Steve, you know that I have no feelings for you whatsoever but you are a gorgeous specimen of a man. Is it so hard to think that he just wanted you as eye candy?”

Yeah, Steve could see that but who would ever want do something like that? Who would nearly get a great actor fired just so they could move them into a different part? And it galled because Steve knew he was a great actor and he knew that he had impressed Coulson so why had Coulson swayed so easily? But more than that-

“He seemed so genuine,” he murmured.

Bucky smiled sympathetically. “He’s one of the best actors on Broadway right now. Of course he did.”

They kept walking, Steve’s mind now whirling with thoughts of the day. He could see now where Stark had acted so sweet- to keep Steve from suspecting him. The flirting must have been because he really was the playboy that everyone claimed him to be. Rhodes surprised him though because Rhodes definitely seemed to be a genuinely decent person by all accounts. But he supposed that Stark could have fooled him too. After all, hadn’t Rhodes also warned him about Stark’s flirting? He kept going over everything that had happened, seeing motive now where he’d missed it before. It was certain- Stark had very neatly maneuvered him into the position he wanted him in.

That burned. Steve didn’t think he was as naïve as Bucky always claimed him to be but he certainly was rather trusting. To have that trust be taken advantage of so quickly was hurtful.

Well, one thing was for sure. He wasn’t going to let Stark ever do that again.

Chapter Text

Steve spent all of three hours doing a bit of research on Tony Stark before coming to the conclusion that Bucky was right. Stark was all of twenty-two years old but he’d ruled the partying scene since he was sixteen, drinking wildly until the small hours of the morning nearly every night and bringing home a different person just as often. He was in the tabloids every other week for some new exploit, an impressive feat for a stage actor who’d never once appeared in a film. He’d gained a reputation for being a difficult and demanding actor, insisting on the most outrageous list of demands in return for his appearance in a show. The more Steve read, the more disgusted with Stark he became and the more Steve was disappointed for not having done the research when Phillips told him to.

This was certainly not a man who had Steve’s best interests at heart and more than likely was only interested in himself.

Armed with his new knowledge, he walked into the callbacks two days after his first audition ready to face Tony Stark with all the disdain his antics deserved. Stark was already in the auditorium when he arrived with Bucky and Sam, both of whom had also been on the list of callbacks.

Stark glanced up from his conversation with Rhodes and a pretty red-haired woman as soon as Steve entered. He cast a hopeful smile and a little wave at Steve. Steve gave him his coldest glare and turned away, pretending not to notice the confused hurt expression that appeared on Stark’s face.

A moment later, Stark excused himself from his conversation and jogged over to Steve. “Steve,” Stark said, sounding hopeful again. “Hi.”

“Hello,” Steve said, maintaining the cold expression. “Should I sit with the Demetrius actors or the Oberon actors?”

Stark looked a little lost and he flitted his eyes over to Bucky and Sam as though they would tell him why Steve was upset. The two just offered glares of their own. Steve had told them everything he’d found on Stark and they all agreed that it was best Steve stay away from him.

“I-” Stark said, faltering. “You should- sit where you want. Why would I care where you sit?”

Steve huffed. Of course the outcome of these auditions wouldn’t matter to Stark. “Since you want me in the Oberon role so bad.”

He left Stark standing there to puzzle out his words and resolutely sat in the Demetrius section. He wanted the role of Demetrius, not Oberon, and he was going to show Coulson that he was the best man for the role.

Coulson himself entered a few minutes later with the same assistant he’d had two days prior. Stark flagged him down and the two held a quick hurried argument, during which they glanced at Steve no less than five times. Steve tried to ignore their attention but it wasn’t easy when he was dying to know what was being said.

Were they discussing his decision to sit in the Demetrius section? Was Stark trying to convince Coulson that he should be dismissed from the auditions?

He felt his heart sink a little. He’d always been quick to judge, to act on his temper, as a result of growing up small and sickly. His ma had often told him that it would eventually backfire on him but if it backfired on him now- if he lost this role because he’d snapped at Stark- he would be beyond upset.

But neither Coulson nor Stark came over to him. Instead, they settled into their chairs- the same ones they’d sat in before- and accepted the stack of folders from the assistant.

“Let’s get started,” Coulson called. The noise in the theater immediately died down. “Welcome back. As with the last round, you’re welcome to leave once your audition is finished. I’ll post the callback list tomorrow morning. We’ll begin with Philostrate.”

And so they began. They worked their way through the auditions for the court and then the lovers before breaking for lunch. Coulson wasn’t so quick to dismiss the actors each time but few of them got more than five or six lines into their monologue and none were allowed to finish. Even Steve only got as far as “Melted as the snow, seems to me now” before Coulson waved for him to get off the stage.

Steve resolutely kept his eyes on the auditioning actors and not on Stark. He took detailed notes on each actor, scribbling down what he thought of their monologues and whether he thought they would be a contender for each role. He did not wonder if Stark was paying as little attention to him or if he kept glancing at Steve.

Lunch break was quick and marked with a noticeable lack of Stark. Steve told himself that he was glad Stark wasn’t bothering him.

And then they were back inside to finish for the afternoon. Steve made sure that he moved to sit with the other people auditioning for Oberon. He didn’t want the role but he would be damned if he lost out on the opportunity to work with Coulson just because he wasn’t willing to be flexible with the roles.

When they reached him, he stood and took his place on the stage. He was half-expecting Coulson to let him finish the monologue the way he had with the Henry V one but he got through six lines and was just beginning to say, “Lull’d in these flowers,” when Coulson held up a hand.

“Thank you,” Coulson said. “That’ll be all.”

Steve awkwardly climbed down and walked back to his seat, feeling a little ashamed. It was true that Coulson hadn’t let anyone finish but he’d done the same thing during the first round of auditions and had listened to Steve’s entire monologue. He felt a little like he’d done something wrong, like he’d let Coulson down or something but other than his brief argument with Stark, he had no idea what he might have done.

The last few actors finished up and Coulson stood. “Thank you all for coming. If you get a callback, don’t worry about bringing another monologue. Just bring a copy of the script.”

Then he was gone, Stark and his assistant with him. He didn’t ask to talk to Steve, didn’t even look at him.

“I guess that’s that,” one of the people next to him muttered. Steve guessed so. He bent down and began to pack up his bag.

Chapter Text

He made his way out of the aisle, carefully sliding past both people and things, when he nearly tripped over a young woman bending over to pick up her purse. She dropped her purse again and groaned as a tube of lipstick rolled away down towards the stage.

“Bugger,” she muttered and chased after it, leaving the purse on the ground.

Steve bent down himself to pick it up. It was the least he can do after making her drop it. “Sorry,” he began as she walked back. He handed her the purse and offered her a sheepish smile. She looked a little familiar but he couldn’t quite place where he’d met her before. “Should’ve been watching where I was going.”

She smiled. “I should think so, Mr. Rogers,” she teased, forming her words through a crisp British accent. He immediately knew where he’d met her before.

“Why Miss Peggy Carter, is that any way to greet an old friend?” he declared in an overly exaggerated Southern accent.

“An old coworker maybe,” she replied without missing a beat. “I haven’t seen you since Brooklyn Boy’s premiere. What’ve you been up to?”

“Period dramas,” he said ruefully. “That’s all I get offered these days.”

She glanced around the theater. “At least this is a period comedy.”

“Maybe for the fairies. Can you imagine being poor Nick Bottom?”

“Oh no,” she said sarcastically. “The fairy queen madly in love with him and being waited on hand and foot. What a terrible existence.”

“And the head of an ass. Can’t forget that.”

“He was already an ass,” Peggy retorted. “Puck just lets everyone else see it.” She peeked behind him. “I think we’re holding up everyone else.”

Steve hummed and offered her his arm. She took it delicately, letting him lead her out of the theater. “Got any plans for the night?” he asked.

“Pizza with my sister in the hotel,” she said dryly.

“Oh?” Steve said lightly. “Is Sharon here too?”

She nodded. “Auditioning for Cobweb.”

Steve frowned. “Cobweb? That’s seems pretty small after Brooklyn Boy,” he pointed out.

“I thought so too,” Peggy agreed. “But she’s been doing a lot of theater work in London and said she wanted to do something smaller.”

Steve glanced across the lobby and saw Bucky and Sam waving at him. He sighed. “Sounds like you’ve got a busy night ahead of you.”

“Not so busy I couldn’t do dinner with a friend,” she offered.

“I wouldn’t want to intrude,” he said. “But tomorrow night? If we’re both still here.”

Peggy laughed. “Modesty doesn’t suit you, Steven Rogers. You’ll certainly still be here tomorrow. Coulson’s utterly enamored by you.”

“Tomorrow,” Steve repeated, unable to hide the small smile at Peggy’s certainty. “I’ll call you.”

She grinned and let go of his arm. “I look forward to it.”

Chapter Text

Tony sat down across from Coulson and dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t know what I did,” he said quietly.

Coulson continued cutting up his chicken into tiny bites. He placed a piece into his mouth and chewed slowly, mulling over what he’d seen earlier that day. “With Rogers, you mean?” he asked.

Tony nodded, gaze fixed on his fork. “He won’t talk to me, barely even looks at me. It’s only been two days. Even I can’t manage to piss someone off that quickly.”

“Hmm,” Coulson said simply. “Are you sure it was something you did?”

Tony glanced at him sharply. “Of course not. Anyone could have gotten ahold of him, told him about me, fuck it could have been Hammer as revenge for the water bottle trick. But all accounts claim that Steve- Rogers- isn’t much for gossip. I would have thought he’d at least extend the same courtesy to me.”

“There’s a lot of gossip out there,” Coulson pointed out. “And you cultivated much of it yourself. You must have thought it would backfire at least a few times.”

“Yeah but not like this,” Tony complained. He knew he didn’t have the right to complain. Coulson was right. He had cultivated his reputation, wanting to make sure that any offers he was given were actually worth his time, that people knew what they were getting into with him. And it had backfired- twice actually- once when Howard had kicked him out for causing too many problems and once when his agent had originally approached him about working with Coulson on The Tempest. Tony hadn’t even made it to the audition then and he’d fired his agent soon afterward, deciding to address his own offers without the use of a middleman. He hadn’t ever thought that he’d see an opportunity to work with Coulson again but then he’d gotten the call about A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It was just that he’d really wanted Steve to like him. He wasn’t even sure why he’d wanted him to but he had.

“Rhodey was talking to one of Rogers’ friends- Wilson-”

“The one trying out for Francis Flute?”

Tony shrugged. “I guess. He said that Rogers thinks that I convinced you that he wouldn’t be right for Demetrius. But that doesn’t make any sense because I told him that you were the one who didn’t like him in that role.”

Coulson didn’t say anything to that. Tony didn’t blame him. It had been highly unusual, Tony talking him into giving Steve another chance at a different role, and it had been even more unusual that he’d told Steve about it. Everyone knew that, during a show, the actors banded together against the mean old director but it was one of those unspoken things.

“You need to fix this,” Coulson said finally. He put his fork down so that he could focus all of his attention on Tony, who squirmed under that mildly threatening glare. “You know that I think you’re right. He could be a fantastic Oberon. But your role and his rely on a lot of sexual tension and if you can’t fix it-”

“I know,” Tony replied. “I won’t fuck up your play.”

“See that you don’t. Because if you do, I will tase you and watch Supernanny while you drool into the carpet.”

“Gross,” Tony commented. His phone buzzed and he glanced at it. “Mind if I take this?” Coulson motioned for him to go ahead. He thought about leaving the table but didn’t really see the need to. “Hey, Ty, babe.”

“You said you’d be done ten minutes ago.”

He cringed. Ty hated it when he was late. “I know, we’re almost done. Just a few more minutes.”

“I’ve barely seen you in three days.”

“I’ve been at auditions. You know that.”

“I don’t like it when I don’t-”

“You could have come. I told you Coulson wouldn’t mind.”

“Don’t interrupt me!” Ty snapped. Tony winced again. He kept forgetting. He knew he wasn’t supposed to interrupt him, knew that Ty thought it was the height of rudeness, but it wasn’t always easy to remember. Howard had also hated it when Tony interrupted but he hadn’t minded bothering Howard so he supposed that that was why he had trouble with Ty. Not that it was much of an excuse and it wasn’t like excuses were valid anyway.

“Sorry,” he said quietly. “I’ll be out in just a moment. Love you.”

“Bye,” Ty muttered and hung up without waiting for Tony’s goodbye.

He slipped his phone back into his pocket and smiled cheerfully at Coulson. “I’ve got to go. Promised Ty we’d watch a movie tonight. See you tomorrow?”

“At eight.”

“Make it ten,” Tony countered. “And I’ll bring donuts.”

“Eight and I’ll bring coffee.”

Tony considered the offer. “Deal. Fury gonna be there?”

“To look over the final callbacks, yes. But not until two.”

Tony quirked a small smile. “You gotta love that man’s dedication. Dinner’s on me.” He tossed down a couple bills and swept out of the restaurant.

Chapter Text

Steve slid into the booth across from Peggy. “Back tomorrow?” he asked.

“Steven Grant Rogers,” Peggy scolded. “Starting off dinner with shoptalk?”

Steve smiled sheepishly. He’d always felt a little wrong-footed around Peggy. She just seemed so very graceful and poised and Steve had grown up poor and sickly. He’d never quite known what Peggy was doing looking at him with that smile she had like the two of them were in on a secret together that the rest of the world could only guess at. Peggy had this way of looking at a person like they were the only competent person in the world (besides herself, of course) and it had gotten to Steve a little back when they’d been working together. It had led them to tumble into bed together one night a few weeks before they wrapped on Brooklyn Boy. It had been a fun night too until they’d both woken up and realized that they didn’t actually want to date. They’d fallen into bed a few more times before shooting finished and then a couple times during the press tour and then they’d gone their separate ways. He’d always planned to look her up sometime but he’d never gotten around to it.

“Sorry Peg,” he said. “How was your day?”

She grinned. “Was at the theater the moment Coulson posted the callbacks.”

“And I thought you said no shoptalk.”

Peggy took a demure sip of her water. “It’s impolite to start a conversation like that.”

Steve just shook his head, grinning like a loon. “Sticking around, then?” he asked.

“Mm-hmm,” she hummed. “So’s Sharon. Didn’t see you at the posting.”

“Sam went,” Steve explained. “I planned to go later but then he called us.”

“Us? You must be staying with Bucky?”

The waitress stopped by the table to offer refills on their drinks and take their orders. Steve, who’d been to this place before when he was growing up, ordered their bacon burger with sautéed mushrooms and the fried pickles as an appetizer. Peggy ordered the grilled chicken and then said, raising her voice slightly, “And could you please inform the couple over there that it’s rude to take pictures?”

Steve glanced over just in time to see them slowly lower their phones. He hid a grin behind his menu.

The waitress didn’t even bother hiding her own smile. She’d been working here when Steve was a child and had watched his meteoric rise to fame. He came back every time he was in Brooklyn and she was always the one who ended up serving him. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to deal with unwanted press at this restaurant, whether from the paps or from fans, and usually she got to them before he had to say anything.

“Be right out,” she promised.

“So- Bucky?” Peggy as she walked off.

“Cheaper to share a hotel room.”

“Hmm because you’re just begging for money, are you?”

“New York’s still expensive, whether you’re looking for an apartment or a hotel.”

Peggy groaned. “Don’t I know it. Sharon wanted to bring back some girl she met at a club last night but didn’t because I couldn’t find another room.”

“We’re thinking about going in together on a house if we all get casted. You could join us,” he offered.

She just scoffed. “Rather frat boy of you, isn’t it?”

He smiled up at the waitress as she set down the pickles. “Thanks, Angie,” he murmured. He turned the plate toward Peggy. “Share with me?”

She pursed her lips. “Supposed to be watching my weight. Broadway doesn’t much like fat women. And my agent will throw a fit.”

It was Steve’s turn to scoff. “You know Coulson doesn’t care about that. Remember Etta?”

“And she was a lovely Glinda, we all know that,” Peggy agreed. But she still hesitated. Steve pushed the plate closer to her.

“Peg,” he said quietly. “Take a pickle. The double standards are ridiculous and you know it.”

She took a pickle.

And then, when their food arrived, she apologized profusely, asked for the chicken to be boxed up for leftovers, and ordered a burger.

“That’s my Peggy,” Steve said proudly. He dragged a fry through his ranch dressing (Peggy wrinkled her nose) and continued, “What do you think of the auditions?”

She sighed and reached over to steal one of his fries. “I think there’s a lot of competition- really good competition. I think that this might be the first director I’ve ever worked with where I don’t have a clue what he’s ever thinking.” She paused, eyeing him carefully. “I think that I want to know what happened between you and Tony Stark.”

Steve groaned. “Do we have to?” he muttered.

“The last time I saw you like this was with Schmidt so, yes, we have to.”

“I can’t just think he’s a shitty person?”

She nodded. “You could- if I couldn’t have cut the tension between you two with a knife that first day.”

“Peg,” he began.

“Steve,” she countered. “You forget I know what you look like when you want to fuck someone.”

“I won’t be fucking him. He’s seeing someone.” Steve tries very hard to sound like he’s not sulky about that but well, Tony was very pretty and he had sat on his lap and even if it hadn’t been anything more than a quick fuck between coworkers, he’d still felt that little something.

“That’s it?”

“He’s got a reputation for being hard to work with.”

“So do you,” she pointed out. Her food arrived and she thanked Angie with a quick grin.

Steve protested, “Not like this.”

She took a bite of her burger and moaned. “I can’t remember the last time I ate a burger like this,” she murmured, eyes fluttering.

“Should I be jealous that you never looked at me like that?” Steve asked amusedly.

Her eyes opened, twinkling gently. “Stop trying to change the subject.” She took another bite and then set the burger down. “Did you know that Van Halen insisted on the brown M&Ms being removed from their backstage snack?”

Steve didn’t really see what the point was but he nodded. “Sure, and they did it because their safety requests were ignored one time and the stage came down as a result. What’s your point?”

“They took a lot of criticism for that. But it never stopped them..” Peggy poured ketchup over her fries and popped one in her mouth, sucking the salt off her finger. Steve marveled at the fact that she didn’t get a single lipstick stain on her finger. “So what makes you think that Stark isn’t like that?”

Chapter Text

Tony plopped down in the seat next to Coulson, who was already ready with notebook and pen. For the most part, Coulson was already decided on who he wanted to cast but today was just to double check and make sure that certain pairings and groupings worked well together.

“What’s the order, boss?” he asked lightly, pulling out his own tablet and stylus.

“We’re going to change things up today,” Coulson replied. Hill passed a cup of coffee to him and he handed it to Tony. “Six sugars.”

“Is that a hint of disapproval I hear?” Tony asked, grinning into his cup.

“Not my problem if you drink yourself into an early grave.” He flipped to an earlier page in his notebook and handed it to Tony. “Here’s the schedule.”

Tony scanned it quickly: scenes between Titania, Bottom, and the fairy court; the first scene leading up to Lysander and Hermia’s conversation; a couple with different pairings of the lovers; the play within a play.

“You’ve only got one with Oberon,” he noted. He tapped the paper and handed it back.

Coulson didn’t do anything so common as shrug but Tony got that impression anyway. “It’s the most important scene between Oberon and Puck, the only one I want to see.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed slowly. “But it’s only Oberon and Puck, not Oberon and Titania.”

“I don’t care about the chemistry between Oberon and Titania. I’d be happy if they had no chemistry at all.”

Well that just wasn’t true. Tony was sure that there needed to be at least a little bit of chemistry between the fairy king and queen, at least in their final scenes. But he thought he understood what Coulson was getting at- or maybe he didn’t; there was a reason he was an actor and not a director.

“I’m still not sure about Sunset,” he said, changing the subject.

“Neither am I but I’m less sure about the others.”

“Sunset has a reputation. The others don’t.”

Coulson glanced at him. “So do you,” he pointed out.

Tony frowned at his tablet. “Sunset deserves hers,” he muttered.

He could feel Coulson getting ready to ask him another question and he tensed. He wasn’t ready to talk about his time working with Sunset. He didn’t think he’d ever be.

But then Coulson’s watch chimed softly as it hit the hour and he stood. “Let’s get started,” he announced. The room quieted instantly. Tony kind of wished he had that ability- to quiet a room with the simplest of words. He only ever managed it when he didn’t want to.

“Welcome back,” Coulson began.

Tony looked around the room as Coulson explained the day’s proceedings. The group was a lot smaller than it had been a week ago. He, Coulson, and Hill had narrowed down the actors to about three to five auditionees for each character. It would still be a long day but not as long as if they were still working with the original group.

“We’ll start with the scene from Act III Scene I, beginning with Titania’s line ‘what angel wakes me,’” Coulson continued. “Miss Carter, I want to see you as Titania, Mr. Russel as Nick Bottom, Miss Ross as Peaseblossom, Miss Dupont as Cobweb, Mrs. Jenkins as Moth, and Miss Foster as Mustardseed.”

Coulson, Tony knew, was looking at the chemistry among the actors and making notes accordingly. Did they work well together? Did they click? Did they feed off of each other? Tony was looking at something different. All of these actors were here because they made their characters believable but Tony was looking to see which of them fell naturally into their roles. Who wasn’t acting? Who was being? Who was already mostly off book, despite having been told not to worry about it? He knew that Coulson was probably doing the same thing to a lesser extent but it always helped when somebody else was there to provide a second opinion and Tony had been doing this a long time.

Coulson called them down about three quarters of the way through the scene and switched around actors. He kept Carter, Ross, and Foster up there and threw in Odinson, Pan, and another Foster.

“Pick up from ‘out of this wood.’”

And they began again.

They got the rest of the way through the scene before Coulson pulled them back down and replaced Carter with Lewis and the second Foster with a different Carter.

They went on like this, switching out actors, sometimes all of them, sometimes only a few. Occasionally, Tony leaned over and suggested combinations to try out but, for the most part, Coulson already had a plan and was just implementing it.

Coulson moved on to the scene with the full court and went through five different attempts with Theseus and Hippolyta before he even allowed the scene to progress past the first few lines. Tony glanced over at the satisfied look on Coulson’s face and then down at the profiles on the two actors currently playing Theseus and Hippolyta. He starred their names.

They broke for lunch after a few scenes of the lovers. The auditionees shuffled out of the theater but Tony and Coulson stayed put.

“Maria,” Coulson said, running a hand over his face. “I’ve got an order at Milton’s down the street. Could you please pick it up?”

She nodded shortly and disappeared. Coulson reached forward and picked up Tony’s tablet, reading over his notes. “What do you think?” he asked.

“You seem pretty sold on those two actors for Theseus and Hippolyta. What are their names?”

“Valkyrie and T’Challa,” Coulson said.

“That’s it?”

“That’s all they gave.”

“Huh,” Tony said thoughtfully. “Anyway, them and then Odinson for Bottom.”

“What are the x’s by these names?”

Tony grabbed a bag of blueberries from his bag and popped one into his mouth. “They’re not right.”

“I liked Pan.”

“She was good but you had her up there for the same scene three times and she still kept checking her lines every couple of words. We’ll end up on final dress rehearsals and she still won’t know her lines. Hire the other Carter instead.”

Coulson made a note on his paper next to Pan’s name. “Are you excited for Oberon?” he asked idly.

Tony shrugged. “You know who I want. The others are just extra. Can’t cast too soon, right?”

He inclined his head. “He might still say no.”

“He won’t,” Tony said confidently. “He didn’t even have to think about accepting the Oberon audition. He wants to be in this show.”

Hill walked back in and handed them their sandwiches. “Thanks, Maria,” Coulson said. Tony echoed him. “We’ll run the afternoon like we did the morning, wrap up the last couple of scenes with the lovers, run the play within a play, and then we’ll run the scene between Oberon and Puck. Are you ready?”

Tony grinned and started to open his mouth. Coulson held up a hand to stop him. “If you say that you were born ready, you can turn around and walk out that door.”

Chapter Text

They came back from lunch and Coulson immediately got the scenes going again. Steve kept half his attention on the other actors and half of it on Stark. He just couldn’t figure him out. He didn’t know why Stark had wanted him in Oberon’s role so badly. He didn’t know why Stark had flirted with him if he was seeing someone else. He didn’t know if his reputation was deserved or if Peggy was right and Stark was faking it.

He was sure that he would have found some sort of evidence though if Stark was faking his reputation- some interview or blogpost or something to say that he didn’t deserve his name being dragged through the mud. But there was nothing. Stark was notorious for refusing interviews and the only people who spoke about him had only negative things to say. He knew that that was the way of the world. People only spoke up if they had something negative or extremely positive to say- but then where were the people who had good things to say about him? What made someone like Coulson decide that he was worth taking a chance on?

It was bothering him that he couldn’t figure it out.

“Moving on to the scene between Oberon and Puck, Act III Scene II,” Coulson announced. Steve straightened up and started listening again. “Beginning with Oberon’s line ‘this is thy negligence.’ Hammer, I want to see you first.”

Stark stood as well and sauntered up the aisle across from Hammer. Obviously, Steve hoped that he would get the role of Oberon but if he couldn’t, he sincerely hoped that Hammer wouldn’t. Steve had heard him talk over the last few days and he completely understood Stark’s apparent disdain for the man. Hammer was arrogant and foolish and smarmy. Worst of all, he couldn’t seem to grasp that no one else liked him.

“Tony!” Hammer said with a huge grin. Steve couldn’t help but wonder how he managed to show all his teeth at one time.

“Justin,” Stark said flatly.

They stood there in silence for a moment, Hammer bouncing on the balls of his feet, Stark glaring at him. Steve couldn’t help but wonder what they were waiting for. Every other scene had begun nearly as soon as the actors had taken the stage.

“When you’re ready,” Coulson said impatiently.

Hammer shook himself a little and immediately began, “This is thy negligence: still thou mistakest or else committ’st thy knaveries willfully.”

But there was something off about it. Steve had pored over his script yesterday, readying himself for today’s audition. He had come to accept his role of Oberon and was starting to feel almost like he enjoyed it more. He was sure that Phillips had put his name down for Demetrius because Bucky was auditioning for Lysander but, having now really looked over the script, he felt like Oberon was a much better fit for him. There was something almost fun about Oberon and he had so many layers to him. He was so different than the roles Steve had taken over the last several years. He kept thinking about the odd gleam in Coulson’s eyes when Steve had asked about Oberon lifting the spell.

But it was like Hammer hadn’t seen any of that depth. Hammer wasn’t a bad actor by any means or else he wouldn’t still be there but he didn’t have the range that Steve had seen out of some of the other actors.

Hammer’s first line established him as being more amused than angry with Puck. Steve hated it. Oberon should be furious. Puck had come along and entirely ruined his plan to do something nice for the humans he’d stumbled across and now Puck was just laughing at the chaos he’d caused.

It was clear that Stark hated Hammer’s interpretation too. To Steve, it was more than obvious that Stark was trying to reach back to the place where he’d been Puck on that first day but couldn’t manage it against Hammer’s unctuous Oberon.

Coulson stopped them less than halfway through the scene and called up one of the other remaining auditionees. “From the top,” he said wearily and waved for them to start.

McLaughlin was considerably better than Hammer (not that that would have been hard) but he still seemed to be lacking something, judging by the disappointed look in Coulson’s eyes. He, at least, managed to finish the scene. Then Coulson was bringing up Wilson. Wilson got the best reaction out of the three so far- was even able to play off of Stark’s Puck- but Steve was sitting near enough to Coulson that he could see him cross out Wilson’s name. Then it was Williams, who’d had fantastic auditions up to this point but must have been having an off day because he just couldn’t seem to slip into the role at all. Steve empathized with him. Every actor had their off days but audition days were the worst days to have them.

“Rogers,” Coulson said. He looked exhausted, not that Steve could blame him. The man had to have had a very long week, probably even longer than the actors by this point.

As Steve walked up to the stage, he let the frustration of trying to figure out Stark wash over him, the fury at how he’d thought he’d been used, the anger that Stark hadn’t said anything when he’d yelled, the horror that he might have been mistaken, the sexual tension from that first day. He felt Steve Rogers melt away to be replaced with an incandescently furious fairy king.

He could feel Stark’s eyes on him and he snapped his gaze up to meet it. Something flashed in Stark’s eyes. He took an almost hesitant step backward and, in that moment, he became Puck again.

“This is thy negligence,” Steve snarled lowly as he climbed the steps to the stage. “Still thou mistakest, or else committ’st thy knaveries willfully.” There was a warning note in his voice that he hoped warned Stark that he had better not have done that on purpose.

But this was Stark’s Puck and Stark’s Puck wouldn’t go down with a fight. Steve got up in his face and he didn’t even budge.

“Believe me, King of Shadows,” he said mockingly, “I mistook. Did not you tell me I should know the man by the Athenian garment he had on? And so far blameless proves my enterprise, that I have ‘nointed an Athenian’s eyes.” He grinned widely and tossed out casually, “And so far am I glad it so did sort, as this their jangling I esteem a sport.”

“Thou seest these lovers seek a place to fight,” he pointed out. Stark shrugged like it wasn’t his problem in the slightest, starting to turn away. Steve growled and reach out, spinning him back around. Stark’s eyes widened but Steve was too deep to do more than file it away for future notice.

“Hie therefore, Robin, overcast the night,” he snapped. Listen to me, dammit. “The starry welkin cover thou anon with drooping fog as black as Acheron, and lead these testy rivals so astray as one come not within another’s way. Like to Lysander sometime frame thy tongue, then stir Demetrius up with bitter wrong. And sometime rail thou like Demetrius. And from each other look thou lead them thus, till o’er their brows death-counterfeiting sleep with leaden legs and batty wings doth creep.”

He knew he was supposed to give Puck another flower at this point but he didn’t have one. Instead, he handed him his copy of the script. He didn’t need it anyway. He knew these words, this scene, perfectly.

He continued, “Then crush this herb into Lysander’s eye, whose liquor hath this virtuous property to take from thence all error with his might and make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight. When they next wake, all this derision shall seem a dream and fruitless vision. And back to Athens shall the lovers wend, with league whose date till death shall never end. Whiles I in this affair do thee employ, I’ll to my queen and beg her Indian boy. And then I will her charmed eye release from monster’s view and all things shall be peace.”

He sighed at the end relievedly. It would all work out. He knew it would work out. It had to.

And then Stark argued, “My fairy lord, this must be done with haste.”

Steve sighed again. Of course, he would argue. Nothing could be done easily with him.

“For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast, and yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger,” Stark hastened to say, holding up his hands, forestalling any argument that Steve might have, “at whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there, troop home to churchyards: damned spirits all, that in crossways and floods have burial, already to their wormy beds are gone. For fear lest day should look their shames upon, they willfully exile themselves from light and must for aye consort with black-browed night.”

“But we are spirits of another sort,” Steve all but shouted. He was tired of the arguing, of the games; this was just Puck complaining that he didn’t want to do the job that he’d messed up. Truthfully, he wasn’t entirely certain if he was channeling Oberon’s feelings or his own. He barely noticed that he was advancing on Stark and Stark was retreating just as steadily. “I with the morning’s love have oft made sport, and like a forester the groves may tread even till the eastern gate, all fiery red, opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams, turns into yellow gold his salt green streams.”

Steve stopped suddenly as Stark’s back hit the wall between the auditorium and backstage. He hadn’t realized they’d moved so far across the stage. He paused to gather his thoughts, recollect himself, and agree that Puck should hurry-

-And into the silence, Stark closed his eyes, bared his throat, and moaned.

Steve froze, all thoughts of continuing the scene wiped from his mind. He didn’t know what game Stark was playing- wasn’t sure that he wanted to know- but none of that mattered in the moment when the fact of the matter was that Stark had moaned and he wanted to hear it again. He desperately wanted to hear it again. He took a hurried step backward, giving Stark (and himself if he were being honest) space.

Slowly, Stark opened his eyes. They were clear and it occurred to Steve that the moan had been a deliberate decision on his part. He gave Steve a small smile and then pushed off the wall, turning to Coulson.

“Are we done here?” he called, hopping off the stage. “I think we’re done here.” Coulson’s assistant passed him his bag and he started walking away. He paused about halfway up the aisle.

He jerked a thumb at Steve. “If he’s not here, I’m walking.”

And then Steve was left alone, wondering what the fuck had just happened.

Chapter Text

Chapter Text

Coulson held the first readthrough at his house. He had a nice German colonial home about an hour away from the city and he thought it would be perfect to contain the explosive argument he was sure Stark and Rogers were going to have.

The thing was, they both had very strong personalities with very differing opinions. He’d seen that during the auditions. He was fairly certain that, if they could manage to work together, they’d be the best Oberon and Puck duo of the century but he was equally certain that it was going to take a lot of work to get them to that stage. At least he knew that Stark was open to his vision about the dynamics between the fairies. He thought Rogers was going to take more convincing, which was why he’d asked them to come thirty minutes early to the readthrough.

Rogers was on time. “Stark here yet?” he asked as he walked in.

Coulson shook his head. Rogers just snorted. “Figures,” he muttered.

The most Coulson could do was shrug. He fully anticipated that Stark would be late. He’d asked around to Stark’s previous directors and they’d all told him the same thing: that Stark would be late until rehearsals got fully underway, at which point he would always show up on time if not early. It would be frustrating in the short term but, on the whole, working with Stark was always a rewarding experience. Every single conversation had solidified his opinion on Stark. The man’s reputation was highly exaggerated and only a little bit deserved. But that was something that Rogers was going to have to figure out for himself. Coulson couldn’t tell him and Stark wouldn’t be able to make him believe it.

To his surprise though, Stark arrived only a few minutes after Rogers. “Coulson,” he said cheerfully. He then turned to Rogers and visibly turned more subdued. “Rogers.”

“Stark,” Rogers replied just as coolly.

 After a moment, they broke eye contact and turned to Coulson. He ushered them into the living room and then said, “I wanted to talk to you about your characters.”

Stark, he noticed, didn’t look surprised at all, which was to be expected. After all, Stark had known since the beginning how he planned to change the relationships between the characters. Rogers, on the other hand, looked a little more perplexed.

“Is there a problem?” Rogers asked.

“No problem,” he replied mildly. He flipped open his copy of the script to the argument between Oberon and Puck. “I wanted to ask if your thoughts on Oberon lifting the spell had changed.”

Rogers glanced between him and Stark, who was lounging in his chair, tossing his own script from hand to hand, seemingly disinterested in the proceedings. Coulson could see the tension in his shoulders though and he bet that Rogers could see it too.

“I have,” Rogers confirmed eventually. Coulson motioned for him to continue. “Your question got me thinking about it. Fairies are bound by rules. It’s the structure of their entire society. Whether willingly or not, Titania breaks one of those rules- faithfulness to her husband.”

“Are you referring to the changeling or to Bottom?” Stark interjected.

“Bottom,” Rogers replied, sounding only slightly irritated by the interruption. “But she was forced to break that rule. So the question is, why did Oberon force her to break a rule?”

“And what was your answer?” Coulson prompted.

Rogers shrugged. “Maybe he wanted to break a rule of his own. Maybe he felt guilty so he lifted the spell later.”

He was certainly on the right track even if he wasn’t quite there yet. He hadn’t gotten there as quickly as Stark had but Coulson had noticed that Stark had an unusually quick mind. He couldn’t blame Rogers for taking longer to get there.

“Do you have any thoughts on the rule Oberon wanted to break?” he asked, silently urging him to see.

“I didn’t at first,” Rogers admitted. He stole a brief peek at Stark. “But then I thought about the audition. You want Oberon and Puck to be romantically inclined, right?”

The only outward sign that Coulson was pleased was a small quirk of his mouth. Inwardly, he was crowing. He looked at Stark as well. Stark’s eyes were shining delightedly, a broad grin spreading across his face.

“That’s exactly what I want,” he agreed. Rogers bit down on his lip. Coulson wasn’t entirely certain if he was upset at him agreeing or if he just wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the relationship. It wasn’t the expression he wanted to see on Rogers’ face, even if he had expected it.

Stark challenged, “Will you be able to handle that?”

Rogers eyes flashed. “Of course I can,” he snapped. “Will you?”

Coulson hid a smile as Stark smugly replied, “I think I’ve already shown that I can.”

“Great,” Rogers bit out.

Stark didn’t even bother hiding his smirk. “Fine.”

Coulson bit back a deep sigh, swearing that these two were going to be the death of him. Well, he couldn’t say that he hadn’t been warned. Every director Stark had worked with had also told him that Stark’s relationships with his costars would make or break the production. Looked like he was going to see that firsthand.

Chapter Text

Steve didn’t much acknowledge Stark before the rest of the cast arrived. He wasn’t really angry about the role, at least not anymore. He had wanted something different than what he usually did and Oberon—even before he’d realized what direction Coulson wanted to take him in—was certainly different. It was more that it was like Stark had come equipped with a book on every single one of Steve’s buttons and how to push them.

He’d come to the conclusion soon after the auditions that he had probably overreacted. Steve was first to admit that he had a quick temper but he probably shouldn’t have taken his frustrations out on Stark like that, not without confirmation. He’d just assumed that the rumors were true and gone from there. He had gone to Coulson’s house with the idea of trying to start over but then Stark had been running late and then he’d had that smarmy look on his face and Steve had seen red when he shouldn’t have.

He thought about trying to talk to Stark before anyone else arrived but the door rang only minutes after Coulson finished talking to them. Stark took the liberty of opening the door while Coulson ducked into another room—Steve presumed it was the kitchen.

“Brucie-bear!” Stark crowed, throwing one arm around the visibly nervous brunet and the other around his companion.

“Betty, Bruce, this is Steve, my beloved king,” Stark said as he led them over to Steve. There was a glint in his eyes like he was daring Steve to play along and, well, Steve had never been able to resist a challenge.

“Nice to meet you,” Steve said, reaching out to shake first Bruce’s hand and then Betty’s. “Clearly you’ve met my most loyal Puck.” A small, delighted smile appears on Stark’s face and Steve hides his own by turning to Betty.

“We grew up in the same circles,” Betty said fondly. “My mother was a set designer and my father the house manager of Howard Stark’s preferred theater. They worked together quite a bit.”

“And what about Bruce?” Steve asked, nodding at where Bruce and Stark had broken off into their own little duo. They were holding a furious, whispered conversation.

“My fiancé.” Betty held out her left hand, showing off a very simple engagement ring. The silver band and single diamond suited her very well. “We met through Tony. He fancies himself a matchmaker. You should watch out or he’ll find someone for you too.”

“He’s clearly not a bad one if you’re getting married.”

“We were one of his better attempts. You should ask Pepper about Zeke Stane.”

“All lies,” Stark said suddenly, popping up beside Steve like he’d never left. “I maintain to this day that I had nothing to do with that.”

Both Betty and Bruce looked rather unimpressed. Steve, in an attempt to find out a little more about his coworkers, asked which roles they were playing.

“Peaseblossom. You know,” Betty said thoughtfully. “I don’t think we ever actually appear on stage together.”

“Maybe in one of the final scenes,” Stark said and pulled out his copy of the play to flip through it.

“Snug the joiner,” Bruce said. “I think Coulson thought I’d make a good lion.” Steve looked at the unassuming man and personally thought that he had no idea why. Bruce looked like he was more likely to be frightened than to frighten someone else.

Stark hummed. “I bet he saw your Mr. Hyde. Absolutely terrifying.”

Steve froze, looking at the unassuming man in a new light. “That was you? Your performance was incredible,” he said. Bruce blushed and ducked his head.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stark muttered but there wasn’t any heat to it. “We’re all a fan of the way you turn into an enormous rage monster.”

He ducked away as the doorbell rang again, calling for Coulson to perform his hostly duties. Steve was left alone with Bruce and Betty. “I’ve seen that look on your face,” Bruce said mildly. “Tony’s a good guy. He just takes some getting used to.”

“Getting used to,” Steve repeated flatly. He was beginning to wonder where the rumors came from if everyone he talked to actually liked him.

Bruce shrugged. “Yeah. He’s the kind of guy who’ll jab you with a fork just to see what you do but he’s also the kind of guy who’ll comfort one of the chorus members just because she had a bad day.” The way he said it made it seem like there was a story behind his statement but, before Steve could interrupt, Stark was back with three other people Steve recognized from the audition but couldn’t name.

It went on from there. Coulson emerged from the kitchen at some point with snacks and the promise of pizza later that day. Stark flitted from group to group with an easy smile and a joke for each one of them but he kept coming back to Steve’s side each time someone new showed up—introducing Steve to the others in the industry apparently. Steve found himself shifting uncomfortably each time it happened as he wondered which was real: the countless rumors or the numerous personal stories. He wasn’t even sure which he wanted to be real. If the rumors were true, then it would make it that much harder to work with Stark. But if Bruce’s and Rhodes’ stories were, well, then Steve owed Stark an apology—and he’d never been good at those.

“Let’s get started!” Coulson shouted at some point over the noise. The room quieted immediately. “We’ll get set up in the living room over here. Find a seat.” He waited as everyone settled into plush armchairs and a couple soft couches. To Steve’s surprise, Stark sat down beside him, relaxing into the couch like he belonged there.

“Here’s how today’s going to go,” Coulson continued. “We’ll do one readthrough this morning, no stopping. Break for lunch then pick back up to do another readthrough discussing characterization, interactions, feelings. Questions?” When no one said anything, he nodded grimly and sat down in his own chair. “Let’s get started.”

T’Challa—no last name—was a tall, slender black man with the sort of voice that made people sit up and take notice. It was the sort of voice that belonged to a king and indeed, if Steve was remembering his resume correctly, T’Challa had played several of them, though Steve hadn’t seen any of his shows.

So when he began with “Now, fair Hippolyta,” the rest of the cast stopped what they were doing—whether that was flipping through the script or looking something up or something else—and listened.

Steve followed along as Hermia and her two suitors “entered” and made notes about his thoughts on their performances. He was pleased to note that Rhodes had been cast as Demetrius. He liked him, had wanted him to be chosen if Steve couldn’t have the role. Rhodes’ characterization was—interesting, to say the least. He came across almost as though his attraction to Hermia was something expected of him, like there was no real interest in it. Steve wasn’t entirely certain if it was a result of this being a first readthrough or if it was an actual choice but it was certainly intriguing.

They pushed on into the second scene. The mechanicals were made up of a rather motley crew. Steve already knew Sam and he’d met Bruce earlier but he was ridiculously amused by the giant of a man they’d gotten to play Nick Bottom—Thor Odinson—and just as amused by the barely-out-of-his-teens Peter Parker playing Francis Flute. Two of the mechanicals were played by women—a sprightly young woman by the name of Darcy for the renamed Phoebe Quince and one Sunset Bain, rapidly approaching middle age and trying desperately to look like she wasn’t.

They worked well together despite their differences. It was a quick scene but it had the opportunity for quite a bit of comedy and they managed it well. The others had few lines but Thor and Darcy played wonderfully off of each other. Steve would have thought they’d worked together in the past if it hadn’t been for Darcy introducing herself by saying that this was her first show.

And then they were moving onto the second act. Coulson had mentioned once before that the unnamed fairy in the scene would in fact be Peaseblossom. Betty was marvelous in the scene, firing back at Stark’s Puck easily, alternating between awed and amused, teasing him for his many titles and misdeeds.

Steve entered with his, “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.”

Peggy gave him a remarkably haughty look, scoffed, “What, jealous Oberon!” and they went off from there. As always, she was magnificent in her scorn and rage, accusing him of cheating on her, of returning to their home solely to bless his lover in her marriage. Steve threw it back at her, reminding her of her affair with Theseus, but she laughed hysterically and laid the blame for the way the world was falling to pieces solely at his feet.

Steve reminded her that she need only do one little thing and all would be well, trying to remember to act like he was no longer in love with her, that something else had caught his interest. It wasn’t hard when he thought about how intrigued he already was by Stark. He was fairly sure he was succeeding as Coulson gave the smallest approving nod toward the end of the scene.

Then he was talking to Stark, calling him his and gentle. He remembered what an old drama teacher had once said about that line, that Oberon was really calling Puck “dear.” When they’d discussed it then, it had been more of a cajoling term to get Puck to do what he wanted. But with the new spin, he tried to make it fonder. Puck was his, his friend, his secret love. Puck was dear and darling and all those other terms of endearment so he put as much of that into his voice as he could.

Stark went with him, voice soft like he was assuring his king that everything would be alright, and when the scene was finishing up, with Puck’s promise that he would see the job through, he met Stark’s gaze—and Stark smiled softly at him, like it wasn’t Puck promising that at all.

The rest of the play passed by quickly, the intensity between the fairy king and his attendant growing in intensity until they were shouting at each other as the lovers ran through the forest. And then the moment where Stark had moaned during auditions. Steve was quite certain that Coulson meant for this to be the culmination of the play, the moment when Oberon and Puck realized their feelings for each other only to then realize that they were never meant to be together.

And what a moment it was—Stark moaning at a different spot than he had the last time like he was trying something new; quick, halting dialogue dazed from sweet kisses; and then a pause as Steve realized what he was doing and finished his last two lines in an ashamed mumble.

There was a pause. Then Stark’s next few lines, low and furious at first and then growing to a howl. Steve could just picture storm clouds growing over the spurned fairy’s head. The following dialogue between Puck and the lovers was quick like the fairy just wanted to get it over with so he could retreat and lick his wounds in peace. The lifting of the spell signaled a winding down of the intensity, Stark growing softer and softer until he was all but whispering brokenly about Jack having his Jill and all being well.

Steve wasn’t entirely certain how he got through the next scene because he was far too hung up on Stark’s performance. It had been beautiful. It had been awe-inspiring. It had been totally and completely professional.

Who on earth had such a hatred for Stark to spread such lies about his professionalism?

They were moving into the play within a play and Steve could only be grateful, not just because it meant that lunch was coming but also because he needed to talk to Stark.

He finished his final lines and then Stark was turning slightly like he was looking into the camera. A ripple of laughter went through the assembled cast. Steve half-expected the lines to be delivered humorously based on that solely but instead, there was something almost wistful about them—like Puck was trying to convince himself that nothing had happened that night, that he had dreamed Oberon in his arms, that his bliss had only been in his imagination. He paused before the last sentence, smiled to himself, and then perked up to ask for the audience’s applause, sounding much like he had at the beginning of the show. It was a good mask—a great one, even—but the audience had seen behind the curtain now. Puck couldn’t hide from them anymore.

It was one of the best performances Steve had ever seen and it had only been a readthrough.

Bucky was sitting on the other side of him. He leaned over to Steve in the still moment that followed after Stark finished and murmured, “Fuck, if the rest of the show is like that, we’re gonna make the history books.”

“Nice work, everyone,” Coulson said, standing—“Nice work, my ass,” Darcy muttered. “That was incredible.” “Thirty-minute break for lunch.” The doorbell rang right on time. There was a mad dash for the door as everyone tried to get to the pizza first.

“Tony!” Steve called before Stark could leave. Stark paused in the doorway, giving him a wary look. Steve waited until everyone else had left (though he was sure at least Bucky was standing right outside) before he continued, “I wanted to say I was sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed the worst.”

Stark was staring at him curiously with a quirked head. He looked oddly adorable and Steve had to bite back a smile. “It’s okay. I spread those rumors for a reason.”

“But you want people to see past them. I should have but I didn’t and I wanted to apologize for that. I shouldn’t have accused you of suggesting me for Oberon just because you wanted me there.”

Stark snorted. “Can you blame me though?”

Steve grinned. He liked to think of himself as modest—and he was certainly no Idris Elba—but the truth was that he’d been voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive last year. “Only if you won’t blame me for how I acted that first day.” He paused before holding out his hand. “I know we can’t really start over but maybe we can move on?”

Stark—Tony—gave him a dazzling smile and moved in for a hug. He smelled good, like vanilla and lavender and all those other good things, and the way he felt in his arms—

Oh, Steve thought panicked. So his attraction hadn’t been a one-time deal.

Chapter Text

The first day of rehearsals—official rehearsals, that was—was always long and exhausting and often a complete shitshow. So Tony showed up bright and early with two cups of coffee, one for him and one for Steve (technically, he’d showed up with three cups but Ty had taken his and stalked off to find Coulson as soon as they’d arrived—Tony made a mental note to apologize about whatever he’d done wrong last night).

Steve looked ridiculously pleased when Tony passed him the cup even though Tony had had no idea what to get him so he’d gone with a basic black coffee and a handful of creamers, all bright blue eyes and pink cheeks. Tony could see why he’d been Sexiest Man Alive last year. He wanted to keep Steve looking like that forever.

Bad Tony, he told himself. You’ve got Ty.

Yeah, but when’s the last time he kissed you? his brain reminded him.

Tony frowned. He must have been doing worse than he thought. He’d make it up to him tonight.

“Guess you don’t like first days, huh?” Steve asked, sipping from his cup.

“Hmm?” Tony realized his frown must have been coming off as more disappointed than thoughtful. Well, he supposed he was disappointed, just in himself rather than anything else. “Nah. First days are great. Lotta work and standing around and Rhodey says Coulson likes to take notes from the actors on their opinion about the blocking so it takes a while.”

Steve shrugged. “Better than when they don’t listen at all. My first film was like that.”

The first play Tony had ever done without Howard’s support had been like that too. He was just getting ready to say so when Coulson called for attention, introduced Ty as the stage manager, reminded them that they would be blocking sequentially, and then shooed away the actors who wouldn’t be needed until later. A few of the newer actors drifted off backstage but Tony, joined by most of the veterans he’d worked with in the past, took seats in the audience where they could watch the proceedings and wait for their scenes.

Tony went to go sit next to Ty. Ty just looked up at him and said, “Do you really think you’re not going to be a distraction?” And, well, Tony was always a distraction; Ty said that a lot. So he turned around and went to sit next to Rhodey and Pepper instead.

Coulson, unlike most directors Tony had worked with, was up on stage with the actors, physically showing them where he wanted them to go. Hill trailed after him like a lost puppy, making notes when one of the actors had a suggestion or when Coulson frowned thoughtfully in that way that made it clear he was thinking of a different idea. This run through was what Coulson called “preliminary blocking” where they could get the basic blocking down before they had another run through the next day that would take into account the changes Coulson had made overnight.

It was slow-going—these things always were—so Tony played around on his phone until Pepper and Rhodey were called up and then he dozed lightly through the next couple of scenes until Coulson was announcing the beginning of Act II Scene I.

He darted up out of his seat and made his way up to the front, followed by Betty, Steve, and the rest of the fairy court, including a very small girl that Tony didn’t recognize since she hadn’t been at the readthrough but supposed was playing the changeling. Coulson started by introducing the girl, saying, “This is Cassie Lang, our changeling. She’s six years old and her father has asked me to keep her from being corrupted so—” He paused, casting a glare over all of them. Tony was pretty sure he knew what was coming and he groaned mentally. “—we’ll be having a swear jar.”

Called it.

“You’re a lot eviler than you look,” Jane Foster retorted as the others groaned. Coulson gave her a very bland smile.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He nodded towards the other actors Tony didn’t recognize. “And, of course, the chorus.”

Coulson was unusual for having the same chorus that he used for almost everything. Tony supposed it was good for the chorus themselves since it promised them a steady job but it had to be frustrating for anyone trying to break into the industry.

“For this show, the chorus will spend most of their time as Titania’s court since Oberon will have returned recently for the wedding,” Coulson continued. “I just need Puck and Peaseblossom here. The rest of you can wait backstage.” He waited until the stage was clear before turning to Tony and Betty.

“Obviously, the stage is empty,” Coulson said, gesturing to the bare stage, marked only with spike tape. “We have a brief scene change in between acts, switching between the Quince’s house and the forest. While we’re changing the set, Betty, I have you coming down the stage right aisle, with a broom. I want you singing something, maybe doing a little dance, whatever you can to draw attention to you and not the set change. When you get to the stage, we’ll have stairs off to the side, you’ll walk up and continue cleaning.

“How the forest is going to look—I’ve got trees marked here, here, here, and here.” He pointed to each spot. “There’s going to be a large hill there at center right, with a cave set into it and two thrones on top. You’ll continue cleaning and eventually you’ll make a loud noise at the top of the hill, which will alert Puck.

“Now, Tony, I’m not entirely certain how I have you entering yet, whether from the stage left aisle or from offstage or if we’ll have you fly in. I want to see what Shuri comes up with first.”

“Oh are you getting Shuri to do the effects?” Tony asked. “I loved her work in Tempest.”

Coulson ignored him. Tony was beginning to get used to him doing that. “Wherever you enter from, you’ll stop at left center, beside this tree.”

“How heavy will the trees be? Heavy enough to lean against?”

“Miss Danvers was talking about iron trees last time we spoke so I would imagine so.”

Tony nodded to himself and made a note on his script.

“Betty, when Stark enters, you’ll be startled. Bump into one of the thrones and sit down then jump up.”

“Like I’m not supposed to be there,” Betty finishes.

“Exactly. Continue cleaning the thrones as you talk. Tony, while she’s talking, cross through the trees to the base of the hill—”

“Directly or more like a saunter?”

“We’ll try it both ways and see how it goes—to the base of the hill. When she talks about the queen, run up the hill and pull her away from the throne, back to the bottom of the hill. Keep moving her toward down left while you talk, far away from the throne as possible. You’re trying to get her to go away. Betty, as soon as he’s done talking, you duck away and go right back to the thrones. You’re completely affected by the fact that you, a much lower ranked fairy, are talking to the king’s right-hand man but you don’t want Puck to see it. Puck, you’ll follow her but stay at the bottom.

“When we start to Puck’s merry wanderer monologue, you’ll fly—not run—up to the bigger throne and crouch on top of it as you deliver the first few lines. Climb all over it as you talk. You’re Oberon’s right-hand man. He allows you indulgences he’d never allow anyone else, including the throne.

“We get to ‘room, fairy’ and both of you are going to descend the hill and bow at the base, not quite prostrate but close—yes, Betty, like that. We’ll begin with Titania’s court.”

The court shuffles out onto the stage and Coulson nods approvingly. “You’ll be entering from a tree up left—think the Lord of the Rings treehouses. Enter one at a time: Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed. You’ll immediately bow like Puck and Peaseblossom are doing, Coweb and Mustardseed to the left of the staircase and Moth to the right. There’ll be a quick pause during which Betty will look up, realize that she’s not with the rest of the court, and hurry over next to Miss Maximoff. At that point, Titania will descend with Miss Lang, talking about something, use your imaginations. At the same time, Oberon will also enter from center right in front of the hill.

“Steve, you’ll cross just in front of Tony to climb up the hill; Peggy, you’ll do the same but passing through your attendants—”

“Puck’s supposed to be my best friend, right?” Steve interrupted. Coulson nodded, a slight furrow between his brows. “More than a friend, really? So why would I leave him kneeling on the ground?”

Coulson looked thoughtful for a moment. “Are you suggesting that he allow Puck to rise at some point?”

“You probably want me and Peggy to meet at the thrones at the same time but she’s got a lot further to go. So I could pause and, maybe, tap Tony?”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Tony agreed from where he was standing. Later, during actual rehearsals, he would kneel but for now, he was content standing. “Establishes early on that there’s something going on between Oberon and Puck that isn’t happening between Titania and her court.”

“I like it,” Coulson said finally. “Hill, Stone, make a note.”

The blocking continued. For the most part, Tony didn’t really pay attention as none of it applied to him. It was things like, “For now, I want to try Peggy not fully getting to the top of the hill before she spots Steve and turns around,” and “Steve, don’t move from the top of the hill. I want you to look like you’re trying to establish dominance even though it’s very clear that Peggy has the upper hand in this conversation,” and “While Peggy and Steve are arguing, I want the rest of the fairy court to appear. You two will climb onto the branches and you three will come out from behind the trees and…”

Peggy and the rest of the court retreated offstage at down left. “Steve, you’ll call out after her that you’re going to have your revenge and then sink onto your throne as you call for Puck. Tony, at that point, you’ll go join him and take Titania’s throne. You’ll get through the conversation up to ‘I remember’ seated and then Steve will get up and start pacing across the top of the hill. Tony, you’ll exit behind the hill up right.”

The scene continued as Tony waited offstage for his next cue. The rest of their scene was short with Puck teasing Oberon by withholding the flower from him until Oberon bodily knocked him over, landing on top of him. The last few lines were spoken breathlessly and then Oberon exited the same way Titania had, looking back at Puck a few times, before Puck himself exited.

He didn’t bother heading back out to the auditorium during the next scene, knowing he’d be entering in a few minutes. Instead, he sat and enjoyed watching Coulson work. The man was a master at what he did and Tony, for one, was deeply honored to be working with him.

“Tony’s going to enter here, from the tree at up center. He’s obviously been looking for the man and is upset that he’s going to disappoint Oberon. He’ll come to down center stage, loudly complaining about the lack of men in the forest—”

Tony snickered. He’d always suspected Coulson actually had a sense of humor but it was nice to have it confirmed.

“—and then he’ll start moving toward down left and will trip over Bucky—”

“—you’ll fly down from the tree and follow Thor off stage right—”

“—you’ll follow Tony around the balcony as he’s talking about Bottom and Titania and then you’ll stop as you spot Jim—”

“—as Jim is lying down, Tony will start climbing down from the tree and freeze as Steve asks what he’s done—”

And then they were coming up on the scene—the one that Tony still hadn’t told Ty about. It wasn’t that Ty was scarily jealous or anything, just that he was rather possessive. Most of the time, it was nice, knowing that he was so wanted. But sometimes, when Tony had already done something wrong, it wasn’t as great. Those were the times when Ty fucked bruises into Tony’s hips and thighs, the ones that hurt worse than a mild twinge the next day. He knew he was overreacting, that Ty was just feeling a little insecure and who was Tony to deny him the reassurance that he was Ty’s? He just sometimes wished it didn’t have to hurt so much during those times.

“Steve will stand from his throne here and deliver his lines as he walks down the hill and cross the stage to stand beside Tony at down left. Tony will begin his lines about the Athenian garments. Pause as you finish ‘By the Athenian garments he had on?’ Bucky, when he finishes that, you’re going to run screaming in front of the audience below the orchestra pit. Tony, gesture to him because he’s proving your point.

“Steve, you’ll start your monologue here. You’re going to crowd Tony across the stage until he slams against the proscenium wall at ‘all things shall be peace.’ Tony, you’ll moan here. A beat and then Steve will lift you up—”

“—Legs around his waist and the kiss and all that, right?” Tony said, hoping that they could get it over and done with quickly.

Coulson nodded his agreement. “We won’t be blocking the kiss in detail today. The general gist is you two will kiss for a while, you’ll wind up on the floor at down center at some point as Tony says his next line, stay there as Steve starts his. Steve, before you begin the last two lines, you’ll stop, stare at Tony for a long time as you realize what you’re doing, and then you’ll stand and cross to down left as you finish your last lines. Tony, he leaves and you slowly stand and stay at center stage as you say your lines.” He called for Bucky to come to the stage.

Tony snuck a glance at where Ty was sitting in the auditorium. Ty’s face was red, his expression thunderous. Tony winced. It was definitely going to be one of those nights.

Chapter Text

Steve found him after rehearsal getting ready to pack up and face Ty’s wrath for not telling him about Coulson’s vision. Tony flashed him a quick smile, shoving his worry to the back of his mind. Tony shouldn’t be worried about it anyway. Ty had every right to be angry because he’d kept something big from him. Stage romances were pretty par for the course for actors but Ty was crew, not cast. Tony was his first relationship with an actor and it was probably shaping up to be a pretty poor one, judging by how he’d handled this whole mess.

“Hey,” Steve said. He held up his copy of the play. “I wanted to ask if you wanted to go get a cup of coffee with me or something. I thought it might be helpful if we ran lines together, maybe?”

The request wasn’t an unusual one. A lot of actors ran lines together. For that matter, Tony had seen in the cast group chat that Thor was getting together the mechanicals to run lines early tomorrow morning before rehearsal. So, no, what Steve was asking wasn’t odd at all.

But Tony still shifted on his feet, squirming uncomfortably for reasons that he couldn’t fully explain. “No can do,” he said blithely, trying to cover up his unease. “Date night with the boyfriend.”

Steve nodded easily, seeming to take it in stride. “Oh yeah? Where are you thinking about going?”

Tony shrugged. He caught a glimpse of Ty grabbing the last of his things. “Probably sushi. Ty’s favorite food, you know.”

Steve followed his gaze and frowned slightly. “You’re dating the stage manager?”

His eyes narrowed. “Is there a problem with that?” Though now that he was thinking about it, Steve looked less upset and more thoughtful.

“Can be messy if you break up.”

He glared. “Any relationship can be messy if you break up. And for your information, I wasn’t planning on breaking up with him.”

Steve winced apologetically. “I didn’t think you were,” he said gently. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

He looked entirely earnest like he truly meant it. He hadn’t insinuated that Tony should break up with his boyfriend on purpose. It was kind of nice. Earnestness was difficult to come by in this field and true earnestness—not the sarcastic kind—was even more rare.

It was that that made Tony say, “It’s fine. I could probably do tomorrow after rehearsal for lines.”

Steve frowned confusedly. Tony told himself it was not adorable. “What?”

“It was a good idea. I just can’t do it tonight and I refuse to get up early in the morning to run lines.”

Steve smirked. “You sure? I’ll make it worth your while.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, certain that Steve didn’t mean it the way it came out. “…How?”

“How does donuts and coffee sound?”

Tony’s mouth twisted. Steve had him there and they both knew it. Tony had always had a minor addiction to donuts (and a major one to coffee). It wasn’t hard to figure out how much he liked them—or that he could be bribed with either one. “Fine,” he said eventually. “The coffeeshop across the street. I’ll meet you there at six.”

Then he was turning away and greeting Ty with a bright smile.

“We need to talk,” Ty snapped.

Tony’s smile dropped. He knew that Ty didn’t mean it the way it sounded because Ty loved him but that didn’t stop his heart from skipping a beat. Everyone knew what that phrase meant and even though Tony knew that Ty just wanted to talk about Steve, he still got a little worried.

Steve was watching them curiously, looking between the two like they were a particularly interesting tennis match. “I’ll see you tomorrow then?” he asked. Tony nodded, not taking his eyes off of Ty. Steve brushed by him as he left and caught his arm. “Are you okay?” he asked lowly. Tony nodded again, heart caught in his throat as Ty’s eyes narrowed.

“What was that all about?” he demanded as soon as Steve left.

Tony glanced around. They were mostly alone but there were still a few straggling actors. He didn’t want them listening in. “Can we not do this here?” he muttered and turned to go.

Ty caught his arm, fingers digging in where Steve’s had been gentle—and Tony hated that, hated that he was making this connection because Ty wasn’t abusive—he wasn’t—but it hurt. He shrugged his arm free. “I’m not a dog, Ty,” he snapped. “You don’t have to drag me around.”

Ty’s fingers tightened just the slightest bit making Tony wince before he released him altogether.

The stage was emptying quickly though and so Tony didn’t end up going anywhere as he said, “I’m sorry I haven’t told you yet. It’s Coulson’s idea that Oberon and Puck are in love. I wouldn’t have come up with it on my own.”

Ty frowned, crossing his arms. “I don’t like the thought of his hands on you.”

“It’s no big deal,” Tony said quietly. “It’s just the one scene and that’s it.” He reached out to hold onto Ty’s hand but Ty shifted away. His hand fell back to his side limply.

“You’re not his,” Ty said, possessiveness glowing in his blue eyes. “You’re mine and I don’t like it.”

“It’s Coulson’s vision,” Tony repeated, trying to stress that. “There isn’t anything I can do about it and I don’t really want to. I think it’s a great idea.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Ty’s entire demeanor went frosty. “Is that right?” he snarled. “You’re not even going to try? I’m uncomfortable with the thought of other men touching you and you just don’t even care? How would you feel if I went out and picked someone up at a club right now?”

“That’s not the same and you know it,” Tony argued. “This is for a play. I’m just acting.”

“You’re not that good of an actor, Tony,” Ty said flatly. Tony reared back, hurt by Ty’s cruel words. “Oh, I’m not saying it’s you personally. No one’s that good.”

“Other actors do it just fine.”

Ty sneered, presumably at Tony’s naivete. “Come on. We all know they’re fucking behind the scenes. Even your precious Oberon fucked Carter when they were working together. They’re probably fucking now so you need to get over your ridiculous crush and tell Coulson that you’re not doing the scene.”

“I don’t have a crush on Steve,” Tony insisted. But that wasn’t entirely true, was it? Steve was attractive and Tony had eyes. But that was all it was—an attraction. Right? “And I am going to do it. You’ll just have to get over it.”

Ty stared at him for a long moment. “Right,” he said eventually, breathing heavily through his nose. “Right. If that’s how you feel. Guess we don’t need to be doing dinner tonight, huh?” He stalked off.

“Ty, wait!” Tony called but Ty was already gone, leaving Tony alone in the darkened theater.

Well, that was just perfect. He hadn’t meant for the conversation to go that poorly. Ty just had him all turned around, saying things that he didn’t mean, keeping things quiet that he shouldn’t. This scene wasn’t supposed to be a big deal and it wasn’t but clearly, Tony had gone wrong trying to explain that. He pulled out his phone and sent off a quick text to Ty, telling him that he was sorry and asking if they could just talk it over.

Hope to see you at home. Love you, he finished. Then he dialed Happy’s number.

“Happy? Hi. Sorry about this. I’m gonna need a ride.”

Chapter Text

Steve showed up early to the café because that was who he was as a person. He ordered two black coffees with an extra shot of espresso in both, for Tony because he knew the younger actor didn’t usually wake up that early and for himself because he’d been up late the previous night running lines with Peggy.

He settled down to wait for Tony and was pleasantly surprised when Tony dashed in only a few minutes after he did. Although, now that he was thinking about it, he wasn’t entirely certain why he was so surprised. Tony had shown himself to be a complete professional over the last few days. Tony spotted him just as Steve was waving him over and slid into the seat across from him with a smile that was half-relieved and half-grateful.

Steve handed over a paper bag. “Donuts from the bakery a few doors down,” he said. “Should still be hot.” Then he slid the coffee across the table. “I know you drink yours with more sugar but I didn’t know how much so I just got you a couple extra sugar packets.”

“You are a godsend,” Tony commented distractedly, dumping packet after packet of sugar into his coffee. Steve gagged at the thought of that much sugar in his drink.

Tony took a tiny sip and moaned happily. “This is perfect. Ty doesn’t like to keep coffee in the house so I’m stuck getting it from the bodega down the street and theirs is practically sludge.”

Steve frowned. “Didn’t I see him drinking coffee yesterday?” he asked.

“Well yeah,” Tony said with a careless shrug, “but he thinks I drink it too much so, ya know, none in the house.”

Steve’s frown deepened. He opened his mouth to say something but then stopped. It wasn’t his place. Tony was clearly happy in his relationship and he’d gotten so defensive yesterday when Steve had pointed out the inherent problem if they broke up…

Tony didn’t seem to notice Steve’s inner conflict as he was digging through his bag for—”Aha!” Tony exclaimed, pulling out his copy of the play with a triumphant flourish.

“I know we were thinking about running lines,” Steve said, pushing the stage manager to the back of his mind to worry about later. “But I was wondering instead if you wanted to talk about characterization and motivations this morning and meet up again maybe tomorrow to rehearse.”

“Sure,” Tony said easily, already flipping to their first scene. “So, I was thinking—and feel free to stop me if you think something different—but it occurred to me that this needed to be something a long time in coming.”

“These feelings shouldn’t have developed recently. It needs to be over time,” Steve agreed.

Tony pointed a coffee stirrer at him. “Right. And they’ve worked together for a while but I think it needs to go deeper than that because I don’t know about you but, no matter what the movies say, I don’t usually develop feelings for my boss, unless they’re resentful.”

“Friends outside of work,” Steve said thoughtfully. “That makes sense.”

Tony grimaced. “I was thinking more along the lines of childhood friends.”

“I like that,” Steve commented. He jotted a note down in the margins of his script. “So by the time we get to Oberon’s entrance, he’s telling Puck to rise not because he’s in love with him but because they’re friends and it’s weird.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, nodding along. “Maybe even Puck didn’t want to kneel in the first place because that’s not the dynamic he and Oberon have but it’s the kind of thing Titania expects—”

“—and Puck does it to appease her, maybe because of the changeling or maybe it’s an old argument, and Oberon doesn’t like it so he has Puck stand instead,” Steve finished. He makes another note. “I like it. I’ll send it to Peggy, see what she thinks.”

“I’ll let Coulson know at rehearsal.”

“Yeah, you should definitely be the one to do it. He seems to like you.”

Tony snorted. “Me? Come on, he’s totally crushing on you.”

“You helped him with auditions,” Steve reminded him.

Tony seemed to think about that for a minute and then inclined his head, conceding the point. “We get through that part and then we get to the conversation just between the two of them. I was thinking that here’s really where we start teasing this romance idea.”

Steve flipped through his script to the pages Tony was talking about. “Because of the way Oberon’s talking about the mermaid?” he asked, already nodding.

“Yeah. Oberon’s kind of doing this whole waxing poetic thing and Puck doesn’t like that—or shouldn’t—so he interrupts with the ‘I remember’ bit.”

“It could even be a little abrupt so that Oberon pauses, thinks that Puck possibly feels the same way he does.”

Tony drummed his fingers on his chest. “I’m not too sure about that part. I think Coulson wants Oberon’s realization to come on quickly.”

“Right but—” Steve turned the pages quickly, looking for the spot he was thinking of. “—But right here, after Puck returns with the flower. They’re teasing each other and then we do that bit on the ground. Wouldn’t it make more sense if Oberon already knew he was attracted to Puck?”

“No ‘cause look at the rest of the blocking. Oberon’s supposed to do that whole looking back thing while he’s exiting, which only makes sense if he didn’t know how he felt.”

“So maybe then, when Oberon’s talking about the mermaid and Puck interrupts, it’s more surprise at the vehemence because he’s just barely starting to think about Puck in that way?”

Tony nodded decisively. “I like that more.”

Steve grinned. “You know, the rumors say that you’re one helluva rebel but look at you, arguing for what Coulson wants.”

Tony’s smile was real and warm, not the practiced smile the press got to see or the flirtatious one from their first day. It was lovely and beautiful and Steve’s heart fluttered in his chest.

Bad Steve, he scolded his treacherous heart. Tony’s got someone else.

Under the guise of hiding his blush, Steve checked his watch and nearly choked when he saw the time. “I think we’ve got time to discuss one more scene.”

“Then let’s talk about the kiss,” Tony said, flipping to that scene. “I think we’re mostly on the same page about the whole thing but I think it should build through the scene. Oberon’s upset that Puck didn’t follow his instructions exactly and isn’t taking the mess seriously and he’s confused about his feelings—”

“—and Puck’s jealous that Oberon’s paying more attention to the lovers and to his prank on Titania than to him—”

“Right. I think there should be these moments throughout the play where Oberon turns his full attention on Puck and Puck should be completely breathless to have his king, his love’s, attention.”

Steve looked at the animated light in Tony’s eyes, the way he was grinning, and thought that it shouldn’t be Puck who was overwhelmed. “Or maybe it should be Oberon,” he said quietly, “who’s breathless by Puck.”

“Whatever,” Tony said dismissively, waving his hand. “We can discuss it tomorrow. I just think—”

“Excuse me,” a timid voice said. Tony broke off and, almost in unison, the two turned to the young teenage girl standing beside them with a napkin and a pen in her hands. “I don’t mean to interrupt but I was wondering if I could get an autograph?”

She held out the napkin and pen to Tony, who blinked at them for a moment.

“Me?” he said eventually. “Not—” He gestured to Steve.

“I really liked you in Rent,” the girl admitted.

Tony took the napkin. “You saw that, huh?” he asked. “What’s your name?”

“Addie.”

“And what do you want to be when you grow up, Miss Addie?”

“An engineer, actually,” she said with an almost rueful grin.

Tony smiled at her, the same one he’d given Steve. Steve had to tell himself it was irrational to be jealous of a smile. “Nothing to be ashamed of there,” he said. “Back when I still wanted to piss off my dad, I wanted to be an engineer.”

“Really?” the girl asked, sounding excited.

“Yep!” Tony chirped, passing the napkin back to her. From that angle, Steve could see that it read For Addie: Why did the engineering students leave class early? They were getting a little ANSI.

Steve smiled fondly as she ran back to her parents, chattering about how nice Tony had been. “I didn’t know you wanted to be an engineer,” he commented as he began to pack up his stuff.

Tony shrugged. “I didn’t. But those STEM kids get really tired of hearing the same, tired comment of ‘I could never do that’ and all they’re really looking for is validation that they made the right choice instead of the arts. It’s not hurting anyone if I tell them I wanted to be an engineer but tell the arts kids to follow their dreams like I did.”

Steve’s heart skips another couple of beats. He gestured at Tony’s still half-full coffee cup. “Want me to get a to-go cup?”

Tony’s smile is luminous. “My hero,” he teased. Steve’s heart did the fluttering thing again. At that rate, Tony’s smile was going to give him a heart attack. He pushed back from the table and headed up to the front, turning every couple of steps to glance back at Tony.

Breathless by Puck indeed.