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Heart on My Sleeve

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It starts with a hoodie Steve leaves in the library. Which is to say, he finds Tony wearing it in the kitchen, late one evening and remembers—oh yeah. That’s where that was.

He pauses in the doorway, staring despite himself. It’s something about the way the shoulders drape, a little too big for Tony’s frame, and the way Tony keeps having to shove the sleeves up as he flicks through his tablet. It’s the floppy triangle of the hood around his face, and maybe, just a little bit, it’s seeing him in blue instead of red armor or black t-shirts or perfect, pristine white button-downs. There’s a softness to the image, a stillness Steve doesn’t usually associate with Tony Stark, brilliant inventor, superhero and businessman.

Steve wishes he had a pen and paper. This is an image he wants to keep. A contrast to portraits of Iron Man triumphant and Tony’s manic smile when he’s halfway through explaining some new technology Steve barely understands.

Tony looks up.

“Hey, Winghead,” he smiles a small, tired smile. “Can’t sleep?”

“Bad dreams,” Steve admits. It’s not often the ice gets into him these days, but it happens. “You?”

“Too much to do.” Tony gestures at the tablet. “Deadlines stacking up. Want some cocoa?”

“Sure.” Steve grabs a mug and inspects the steaming pot on the stove. Real milk and chocolate, he notes, not a mix. Jarvis is off for the week, so Tony must have made it himself. He ladles out a serving. “Do you need a break from the team?” he asks, holding the steam to his face. “We could call up Sam or Carol if you want some time.”

“No, no, I’m good.” Tony looks back to his tablet and sighs. “I could use a few minutes right now, though, if you want to be a distraction.”

“No problem,” Steve says. “I can be very distracting.” It’s only after he’s taken a sip of the chocolate and refocused on Tony that he realizes what that might have sounded like. A flutter of nerves beats around his navel, but Tony doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Unfortunately.

Steve clears his throat and tries to think of a topic that isn’t his nightmares, Tony’s work, or the fact that Tony’s wearing his clothes.

“Seen any good movies lately?”

Want to see one with me? Slides onto the tip of his tongue, and he swallows it back. He and Tony are friends. Very good friends.

That’s enough.

The next morning, when he finds the hoodie freshly laundered and folded by his door, he tries to hold onto that thought. Tony’s friendship is enough.

He drapes it over a couch in the common room and leaves it there. Just in case.

**

The hoodie makes a few more appearances. Mostly on late nights or early mornings, when Tony’s stumbling through the mansion with too many ideas and too little sleep. It’s endearing. Once, he actually falls asleep on the couch in it, and Steve spends a quiet handful of minutes drawing a blanket up to his shoulders and sliding a pillow under his head so he won’t wake with a crick in his neck.

Sometimes Tony brings the hoodie back, and sometimes Steve just finds it wherever he left it, smelling faintly of coffee and machine grease. Sometimes he even wears it himself.

Usually when it still smells like Tony. He does his best not to think about it too much.

And then there’s a new development, Steve doesn’t even realize it’s happening until hours later. They get an Avengers alert when he’s literally in the shower post team training session and it’s only after they’ve ushered Wrecker back to prison and returned to the mansion that he even sees Tony out of the armor.

In sweatpants and Steve’s star-spangled T-shirt, which he’d thought had just gotten lost in their mad scramble through the locker room.

Steve looks away. He is not drawing attention to this. Mostly because the collar is loose enough to show off a hint of Tony’s collarbones, which is somehow more alluring than just seeing him in a better-fitting T-shirt for a work out. Somehow. His cheeks are too hot.

His teammates don’t seem to have any such issues.

“Are you wearing Steve’s shirt?” Jan asks in a voice that carries far too well for Steve’s liking. The blush immediately flees his cheeks as dread rises through him. He turns to watch.

“What?” Tony looks down at himself. “Oh. Whoops.” He laughs. “I didn’t even notice. Sorry, Steve, I’ll make sure it’s washed before I give it back.”

“It’s fine,” Steve says, the words barely more than a mutter. Keep it, he very definitely doesn’t say. There are too many eyes watching him now. Ororo looks amused. Logan is grinning at him. “I should—go,” he manages, and flees to the gym for another workout. He needs it. He needs something, anyway.

Three hours later, the shirt is waiting outside his room. Clean and folded and with a note that says, Sorry, again.

Steve crumples up the note and throws the T-shirt into the back of his closet.

His sketchbook is full of Tony. His head is full of Tony.

He has to do something.

**

He asks Tony out to burgers, but he’s pretty sure it was just a friends thing. He’d thought maybe something easy and familiar would help him make a transition but that was probably . . . too easy and too familiar.

He tries again. They go to an art museum. He makes a point of staying by Tony’s side instead of wandering off on his own and they talk a lot about art history and major movements and what kind of art they each appreciate the most.

Tony says he has a soft spot for Steve’s work, and Steve guides him to the next room with a gentle touch at his elbow. They talk about symbolism and the passion evident in some of the sculptures. It feels like flirting. Steve’s pretty sure they’re flirting. But then Tony gets a call from his company and has to leave and Steve thinks maybe he did something wrong. Somewhere in there, he either missed something or wasn’t obvious enough.

There has to be a better way. Maybe he just needs to wait for the right moment.

**

They’ve treated Spider-Man and Tigra to the carnival, and the sun is setting. Steve and Tony are walking along the boardwalk, taking in the sights and enjoying the sea breeze and keeping one ear out for any calls to apprehend a cat-like performer or a red-and-blue-suited teenager.

“Oh, hey,” Tony says, pointing to a stall. “Coffee.”

Steve frowns.

“Isn’t it a little late for coffee?”

“It’s never too late for coffee.” Tony squints, like maybe he’s trying to read the chalk-scrawled menu. “Besides, it’s getting chilly out here.”

Steve holds his breath. Opportunity. He slips out of his jacket and sets it over Tony’s shoulders.

There. That’s a pretty clear message, right? He’s seen it in loads of movies since the Avengers found him. It was in Grease. And Titanic.

Tony looks more confused than flattered or charmed. Maybe Steve got it wrong. Maybe that’s not a modern thing. Maybe people stopped doing it in the fifties. What if he’s trying to flirt with Tony with outdated information?

“Uh, thanks,” Tony says. He reaches up to the lapels, like he’s going to take it off. “You really don’t have to—”

“You said you were cold.”

“Yeah, but . . . ” Tony shrugs out of the jacket and tries to hand it back. “I know you get cold easier than me, Cap. I don’t want you taking chill on my account.”

“I’m fine.” Steve crosses his arms. The wind is a little cold, but he’ll never admit it now.

They stare at each other, the jacket hanging from Tony’s hand between them.

“Oh, hey, a jacket! Perfect!” Tigra pops up, apparently from under a craft stall table. She snatches the jacket and pulls it on before either of them can react. “It’s freezing out here. Is it time to go home yet?”

For a moment Steve and Tony simply look at each other, sharing a moment of complete accord.

“Yep,” Tony says. “Time to go.”

“Just gotta find Spider-Man,” Steve adds. There’s a rising commotion on the other side of the Ferris wheel that sounds pretty promising.

He sighs and breaks into a jog as yelling voices draw nearer.

Next time. Next time he’ll get it right.

**

Steve is sketching in the garden on a sunny autumn afternoon, coaxing flowers and trees into shape and trying to capture the quick, darting flight of the songbirds at the birdbath when Tony says, “I need to ask you something.” He’s got his hands shoved in the pockets of his slacks and his shoulders hunched inside his suit jacket. He’s probably just gotten back from the office, if Steve had to guess.

Steve sets the sketchbook aside and gestures for Tony to take a nearby chair.

“What’s up?”

Tony stays standing. He rocks back on his heels.

“Okay. Um.” He presses his lips together, like he’s trying to hold back words.

“Something wrong?” Steve asks.

“No, not . . . not really I just—have you been flirting with me? I just got the impression that maybe—but if you’re not—I mean, either way, I thought it’d be good to know, for sure.”

Oh.

“Yes?” Steve doesn’t mean it to sound like a question, but the way Tony’s not quite looking at him knocks him off balance. He coughs. His throat is a bit tight. “Or, at least, I’ve been trying to. I don’t think I’m very good at it, if you have to ask.”

“Oh,” Tony says.

What does that mean? Steve can feel his heart sinking, all the way down through his stomach.

“I can stop, if you want,” he says, because that—that’s the right thing to say, isn’t it? Flirting with someone who doesn’t like it is just rude.

“No, no!” Tony’s head snaps up. “Flirting is fine, flirting is great, I just--hadn’t really believed it was happening.”

“Does that mean you’d want to see a movie sometime?” Steve asks before he can second-guess himself again. “Or a Broadway show, or—go stargazing, or something?”

“Sure.” Tony grins, bright and happy, with none of his photo op pretense. “Whatever you want.”

“Dinner,” Steve decides. “Tonight? Maybe sushi?”

“Looking forward to it.”

Steve can’t hide his widening smile and doesn’t try to. He feels light and buoyant. On top of the world. He gathers up his sketchbook and pencils with hands that are clumsier than usual and holds them to his chest with both hands. He thinks if he lets go he might just float away.

But Tony would catch him. It’s a beautiful thought.

“I should . . . go make a reservation,” he says, edging back down the path toward the mansion, trying to keep Tony in sight the whole way. “Make sure my suit still fits.”

“Okay,” Tony says, still grinning. Then his expression shifts, turning rueful.

“Oh, Steve, wait.”

Steve stops. This isn’t a setback he tells himself. Tony’s probably just remembered a meeting or something. They’ll still get their date, it’ll just be tomorrow. Or something.

“I think I owe you a new hoodie,” Tony says, sheepish. “I was wearing your blue one the other night and trying to do some work on the armor and I burned one of the sleeves. Sorry.”

Laughter bubbles up through Steve. He’s not sure he can say, in words, how much he doesn’t need an apology.

“Keep it,” he says. “I don’t need it anymore.”