At first, Tony’s eyes pass over him like they pass over everyone else— critical and to-the-point. He’s a built blonde with a sweater that doesn’t fit right and an expression that means he’s either depressed or too smart to like the people here. Either one forebodes the kind of complicated that Tony’s avoiding tonight, soooo next.
He assumes that’s the end of it and goes back to running his finger around the rim of a vodka martini. There’s a guy who definitely wants to sleep with him yammering on about something in the next barstool over, so he tries to think about that instead.
Except the next time his attention refocuses, he’s looking at Depressed Sweater again.
And the guy is still as boring as he was thirty seconds ago, except he’s at an angle where Tony can see his ass, and he’s struck with the jarring feeling that it’s not only a fantastic ass but a familiar one to boot.
“You wanna go upstairs?” asks the guy who definitely wants to sleep with him.
“Not particularly,” Tony says with an absent smile.
Depressed Sweater turns around and they lock eyes—
(Across A Crowded Room, yes, god, he knows how it sounds. He knows how all of it sounds.)
But they lock eyes and Tony feels a blaze of heat in his stomach, goosebumps rising on his arms, tingling at the roots of his hair like he’s just swallowed a nickel-sized lump of Wasabi. Fuck, he thinks, and that word’s almost always his reaction to a person so hot, but this feels markedly different.
The guy who definitely wants to sleep with him has left, and Tony is still staring at Depressed Sweater, and Depressed Sweater is still staring back, like they’re locked in some sort of telepathic mind battle. It’s Tony who breaks first, surprisingly enough, looking down at his drink and wondering with considerable gravity if it has been spiked.
It takes him an annoying amount of time to pull apart the strange embarrassment curling in his gut. When he looks up, he finds that the object of his fascination doodling on a paper napkin.
So Tony keeps watching.
Maybe it’s the way he stares at his hands like it's easier than talking to someone. Maybe it’s the way he bumps into people and blushes like he’s not quite aware of how big he is. Maybe it’s the way he smiles and it doesn’t reach his eyes— and Tony knows it’s wrong. Something’s wrong.
They circle each other for what feels like an obvious amount of time, and when they finally meet in the middle, Tony’s ready to vibrate right out of his skin.
“I know you,” he says. In any other context, it would be a cheap remark paired with a sleazy wink, a transparent attempt to get into yet another pretty blonde’s pants.
(It’s the farthest thing from that. And later, Tony will spend hours thinking about the urgency of it— the burning Right Here, Right Now of the first time they touched. Meant to be was such a funny, stupid thought until he met Steve.)
“We’ve fucked,” Tony tries.
“You went to MIT.”
“You worked for SI.”
“Aren’t you taking the bit a little too far?” Steve asks, very much not on the Kismet Train Tony is currently conducting. Or maybe he is, and he’s just fucking with Tony, it’s difficult to tell. His expression is this disorienting combination of curiosity and amusement, and it’s not exactly that Tony recognizes the wry tilt of his mouth, but the way his own pulse quickens in response feels achingly familiar.
“I mean,” Steve says, and his eyes are smiling even if his mouth isn’t, “do you actually imagine any of this is working on me?”
“Well,” Tony only ever grins with his entire face. “Just because something’s been awful the first thirty-eight times, doesn’t mean the thirty-ninth won’t be the ticket.”
“I like a man who’s self-aware.”
“And I like a lay who gives as good as he gets,” Tony says leans back in his chair. “So tell me right now, Steve Rogers, is there anything that works on you?”
Steve doesn’t answer for a minute, just tilts his head and stares at Tony with an interest that’s suddenly very… soft. He’s still pretty obnoxious and Tony still wants to throw a drink in his face, a little, but he also wants to push him onto a bed, crawl on top of him, and smell his neck for hours.
“Honesty,” Steve decides, and Tony rolls his eyes.
Steve doesn’t react to that beyond taking an idle sip of his ginger ale. Tony thinks ‘he doesn’t drink’ and abruptly realizes he has no way of knowing if that’s true.
“Honesty,” Tony repeats. “You don’t think that gets a little boring?”
“How would you know? You’ve never tried it.”
Huh , Tony considers. Point.
They leave the party. Tony decides he’s done with it and it’s stupid, and he’s suddenly lit up with the kind of energy that can’t be burned off by grinding on twenty-somethings with drug problems. Steve only lives a few blocks from the bar, and Tony offers to walk him home.
“You are not coming up,” Steve tells him, and for a second Tony has this vivid fantasy that he’s saying it more for his own benefit than Tony’s.
“Not even if I promise I won’t make a pass at you?”
“Not even if I believed you were capable of that,” Steve shoots back, mouth tipped in a crooked smile. “I’m not letting Tony Stark into my shitty one bedroom apartment. The water currently coming out of my faucet is brown.”
“So you’re giving me your number, then?”
“Maybe. If you ask for it, like a normal person.”
They keep walking and Steve explains that he has three jobs: he draws for a webcomic, he walks dogs, and he works for the food bank on ninety-first and Broadway. He also tells Tony that he’s a vet who doesn’t believe in the military and that he gets in way too many fights for someone who does not have health insurance.
He tips his head back and laughs exactly once, and Tony thinks the bared line of his throat is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
“This is me,” Steve says, slowing to a stop in front of a stoop that’s seen better days. He leans against the rail like he doesn’t quite want to say goodbye yet, lumbering and awkward in a way that is inexplicably a turn on.
“This is you,” Tony echoes, glancing at the four inches of concrete between them, then back up again.
The ambient sounds of Brooklyn rise up to meet the silence between them— thudding footsteps, rushing cars, drunken laughter. The world seems to tilt a little, and Tony wants to kiss Steve so bad it hurts, but there’s a voice in his head saying: not yet .
“I’m still not sleeping with you.”
“That’s fine,” Tony smiles and wonders if he imagines the way Steve’s gaze drops to his mouth. “Can I have your number?”
Steve writes it on his hand in Sharpie.
Their first date is lunch at a dingy little Shawarma shop in lower Manhattan. Steve orders for both of them, because Tony’s never had Shawarma before, and he doesn’t even roll his eyes when Tony makes a crack about it being his first.
“You know you do this thing,” Tony says, stealing a piece of lamb off Steve’s plate, “the prettier you think I am, the meaner you get.”
Steve raises an eyebrow and smiles. “Very astute, Dr. Stark. Does therapizing your dates usually work out the way you want it to?”
“I’ll let you know tomorrow morning.”
Steve actually does roll his eyes, that time.
“I’m just saying,” Tony presses on, waving around a fry soaked in garlic sauce. “I’m thinking maybe that thing is not so different from my honesty thing. I’m thinking maybe you’ve got everyone fooled with that steady ‘Some Men Can Be Islands’ routine, but you’re actually just as terrified of love as the rest of us.”
Steve doesn’t say anything for a second, instead directing that faint smile at his napkin. He’s so gorgeous it makes Tony’s teeth ache.
“You just implied something there.”
Tony feigns ignorance. “Did I?”
“You implied we were— headed in that direction.”
“Love,” Steve says, and when he meets Tony’s eyes he has that same curious tilt to his expression. “Did you mean to do that, or are you talking too fast for your brain to catch up?”
“My brain is very impressive.”
“Answer the question.”
Tony’s smile softens and he reaches forward to swipe away a little Garlic sauce at the corner of Steve’s mouth. He licks it off his thumb, leans back in his chair, and shrugs. “Guess you’ll have to stick around and find out.”
Steve stares at his lips. Steve stares at his lips a lot, actually, and Tony’s really starting to think he has some sort of repressed Victorian fetish, or something, because this has to be the most agonizing build up to a kiss that he’s ever, ever endured.
“You can’t tell me you don’t feel it,” Tony shakes his head, knocking his knees against Steve’s under the table.
“Feel what?” Steve asks, a parody of Tony’s earlier teasing. He’s such a bitch. Tony can’t get enough of it, honestly.
“Comfortable. More comfortable than anyone in the world has ever felt on a first date.”
“Pretty sweeping declaration, there.”
“One you’re very obviously not denying.”
Steve doesn’t respond, just fixes Tony with an impervious, mild expression. Tony can’t decide if it’s making him mad or stoking his scientific curiosity. Probably a little bit of both. He’s hard-pressed to have a single thought about Steve that isn’t fraught with inconsistency.
They take the Subway home and Steve reaches for his hand across the seat, traces the lines of his palm from memory.
“I feel it,” he says, and leans forward to press a bruising kiss on Tony’s lips. They make out so long they miss their stop.
For some reason Tony has this sudden and overwhelming confidence in his ability to do this, to get to know Steve Rogers and to maybe let Steve Rogers get to know him right back. There’s no rational reason he should think that— no real explanation for suddenly desiring something like intimacy when the thought has made his skin crawl for the past six years, but—
At the very least, trying to coax the flat line of Steve’s mouth into a smile is a thrill-inducing challenge, and Tony has never been known to back down from one of those.
Over the next couple months, he falls in step with Steve and watches their lives slot together in ways that should be impossible.
“I love you,” Steve tells him, like it’s a fact.
“I love you, too,” Tony says back.
“It’s not a contest, you know.”
“Yet I’m still winning! Funny how that works.”
They throw a party at the penthouse and invite all their friends, because they share everything, now — places, people, and the inexplicable bone-deep feeling that they belong together. Rhodey tells him they’re moving too fast at least once a week, but Tony’s so far beyond reason, at this point, that he can’t even pretend to humor the idea of putting some distance between them. He doesn’t know what good it would do, anyway. Falling in love with Steve has only ever felt like hurtling towards the inevitable.
“Sam’s bringing some guys from the VA.”
“Sounds good. Do we know if Thor’s coming?”
“We never know if Thor’s coming.”
“One of the unfortunate consequences of befriending a Norwegian Prince,” Tony agrees and knocks Steve’s phone out of his hand, presses him up against the kitchen counter, and kisses him until he’s panting curses into the comfortable domestic quiet of the apartment.
They barely break apart in time to clean up the place and get ready. Steve makes them do it in separate bathrooms because he point blank refuses to greet guests with flushed cheeks and sex hair. The resulting cold shower is effective right up until Steve emerges from the opposite side of the penthouse wearing a deep blue button-down that looks so good he can’t possibly have picked it out for himself.
Tony doesn’t have time to ravish him because their guests are arriving, but he hopes Steve takes the heated press of his gaze for the promise that it is.
“I’ve never seen you like this,” Bruce says, studying Tony like he’s a broken piece of a chemistry set.
“We’re running out every cliche in the book, apparently,” Tony muses, resting his elbows on the bar and watching Steve sniff some of Thor’s homemade liquor with a faintly disgusted expression.
“You— you look happy, though. Is that such a bad thing?”
“No,” Tony shakes his head. “No, it isn’t.”
Hours later and they’re helping the last couple drunk veterans into the elevators. Tony’s starting to think they’re going to be too tired to do anything except spoon and watch The Daily Show, but then the doors have barely shut and suddenly Steve has Tony backed against the wall, crushing their mouths together with unbridled urgency.
“Jesus, baby,” Tony says, pulling back and looking into Steve’s eyes. They are clouded over with desire and something else, something right on the edge of panic. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Steve shakes his head, and kisses Tony again. His hands are gentler as they run down Tony’s back, but no less frantic. “I just need you.”
And, well. There’s no denying that Tony needs him, too.
(Later, Tony will think that this is just how they get, sometimes. It’s one of their Things - their terrifying, near-mythical Things that don’t make sense outside of their little sliver of the universe. They can be as safe and happy and secure as physically possible, but every now and again one of them will be struck with the terrifying notion that it’s all going to go to shit.
The remedy is simple: closeness, in every sense of the word.)
Tony presses his nose against Steve’s temple, fingers moving in rhythmic, quick movements up and down his length. Steve is panting for it now, back curving in a delicate arch, fingers curling tighter in Tony’s hair. Shivers snake down Tony’s spine, his own arousal hot and insistent against his thigh. He ignores it.
“Close?” he asks Steve, drawing back to take in his flushed features.
Steve looks at him through lidded, hazy blue eyes. There’s sweat gathering on his cupid’s bow and his hair is damp, almost dark where it falls against his forehead. “Please,” he says, and Tony can barely look at him and remember how to breathe at the same time.
“Cheating,” Tony accuses.
Steve, even in the throes of passion, manages to pull that ridiculous ‘oh, me?’ expression. Tony grins and drops a kiss into the hollow of his neck.
“Oh, are you complaining, now?” Tony asks, even as he gently, deliberately slips his away his hand, idly wiping his fingers on the inside of Steve’s thigh.
Steve braces both his hands on Tony’s shoulders and unceremoniously rolls them over. He then proceeds to smile smugly, like he wasn’t just writhing and panting under Tony moments before.
“You’re something else, Steve Rogers,” Tony murmurs, gently massaging Steve’s hip.
Steve says nothing, just smiles more and ducks down to kiss Tony. He pulls away and reaches one hand between Tony’s legs. There’s something hauntingly beautiful about the shadows across his jaw, the power behind broad his shoulders. As imposing as he looks, Tony swears he’s never felt anything as soft as Steve’s thighs bracketing his hips.
Steve works in a second finger and Tony’s hips stutter in almost embarrassingly eager response. He’s smiling like an absolute asshole when he says,“You want me that bad?”, and Tony tells him to fuck off, feeling a breath of a laugh against his neck.
When Steve finally slips inside him, Tony feels it again - that incomprehensible flicker of recognition. We’ve been here before.
Steve’s kisses him and the resulting flood of warmth makes the thought burrow deep into his skin.
The next morning Tony puts the top down on one of the less expensive convertibles and drives them right into upstate New York. He doesn’t tell Steve where they’re going, he doesn’t listen to his music requests, and he refuses to pull over to the side of the road so they can fool around.
“Who are you right now?” Steve asks, genuinely concerned.
His confusion only intensifies as Tony slows to a stop next to a giant open field with impeccably trimmed grass. He makes Steve get out and walk all the way down the incline, until the (brownish and ugly) waters of the Hudson are visible in front of them, daylight glinting off the current. The sun is so bright that it’s already starting to pink up Steve’s skin, and he knows for a fact they’re going to have to pick up a tube of aloe on the way home.
But that doesn’t stop him from standing there and grinning at Steve in silence for what is perhaps a serial-killer-y amount of time.
“Are you feeling feverish?” Steve asks, pressing the back of his hand to Tony’s forehead. Tony allows it, even though he knows it’s nothing more than an excuse to touch him.
“I bought this,” Tony says, and watches in delight as Steve’s brow furrows even further, and he gets this silly pinched up look on his face like he always does when Tony’s thinking faster than him and he’s annoyed by it. “I bought this entire tract of land.”
“Because you were feeling feverish?”
“Because I’m building you a house.”
Steve goes still and Tony realizes that he can literally hear the birds chirping this far away from the city. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and Steve is sporting an expression startlingly similar to his O-face. Life is good.
“You’re building me a house,” Steve echoes.
“Well,” Tony corrects, frowning slightly. “I’m building us a house, I guess, but I already built myself a house and I figure no one’s ever built you a house before, so I’m thinking it’ll be mostly things you like. I’m really generous like that. Anyways, what do you think?”
“What do I think,” Steve repeats, “about you building us a house?”
Tony chews on his lip. “Well, yeah. You’re making me think you hate it. Do you hate it? Did you secretly want to live in Kansas, or something?”
Tony could maybe live in Kansas, if it was with Steve. And he just wore cowboy hats and open plaid shirts all the time everywhere they went.
“I don’t want to live in Kansas,” Steve turns to him, and the look on his face steals the breath right from Tony’s lungs. He wraps his arms around Tony’s waist, lifts Tony off the ground, and kisses Tony’s laughing mouth. “You idiot. I love you so fucking much.”
It’s not that they don’t fight, because they absolutely do, and in ways that are definitely not…. normal.
They get into a screaming match in a Stark Industries conference room with glass walls. It’s so bad and so painfully public that Tony has to make everyone on the floor sign an NDA, because if it gets to TMZ it’s going to affect stock prices in a unilaterally terrible way, and that’s the last fucking thing he needs right now.
(Tony doesn’t know where it comes from, but sometimes it feels like everything in the whole world rests on one of them being right. On there being some sort of resolution.)
Everything compounds, is the problem. Steve realizes Tony doesn’t know what a gallon of milk costs, and that they’ve spent the first 30 years of their lives living in different worlds. Tony picks up on it, gets insecure about losing him, and lashes out. It turns into something about politics. It turns into something about Stark Industries. It turns into something about Steve’s friend Bucky, who Tony doesn’t like or understand.
And then they haven’t talked for a week, and they’re both too stubborn to break the pattern. Tony spends the night sitting under his desk drinking very expensive scotch out of a very expensive crystal tumbler. He’s wearing the crimson tie that Steve got him for his birthday, except it’s hanging undone around his neck now, and he seems to have lost one of his shoes.
It’s really not how he would’ve wanted Steve to find him. He wonders which one of the cleaning staff ratted him out. Probably Molly. It becomes rapidly less important, as Steve crouches down in front of him in a worn-out t-shirt and jeans, sporting a full-on beard as if he hasn’t shaved in a week.
“What are you doing?” Steve asks, and the softness in his voice literally makes Tony want to hurl. “Have you eaten at all today?”
“I had a bag of spicy Cheetos for lunch.”
“Let me get you some water.”
“No,” Tony croaks. “It’s been a week. I needed some water— six days ago. Now I just need you to leave.”
Steve’s face crumples. He looks like he wants to reach for him, but decides against it at the last second, tucking his hand against his side and flexing his fingers. “I know. I know, baby, I’m so sorry.”
Tony closes his eyes. “You should’ve called.”
“I should have called.”
“I know I was wrong—“ Tony presses on, exhaling a slightly shaking breath. “I know I was wrong, but you still should’ve called.”
There’s the sudden sound of movement, of Steve’s jeans rustling against the carpet, and Tony opens on eye in slight curiosity. He watches Steve dig a hand into the pocket of his ill-fitting jeans and fish out the crappy flip-phone that’s all he can afford, that’s the most advanced piece of technology he knows how to use. He presses a button and holds the phone to his ear, looking at Tony like he actually expects him to take this little spectacle seriously.
“This is so dumb,” Tony frowns.
Steve does not engage. Tony can hear his own voicemail in the background because Steve broke the volume button on the phone and now it’s frozen at max.
“Hey,” Steve says. “It’s me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the things I said, I’m sorry I didn’t call, and I’m sorry I made you feel like you were wrong.”
He pauses like he doesn’t quite know what to say, faltering in a way that reminds Tony he’s not nearly as perfect as everyone thinks he is. And the thought isn’t even vindictive, really, because Tony loves Steve most in the moments he’s close enough to see all his cracks and broken edges.
“I think we’re sometimes going to fight like this,” Steve says, and he really does reach out this time, placing a tentative hand on Tony’s ankle. “But I still think it’s worth it, Tony. I think I’d go through anything, if it meant I got to be with you.”
He sits in silence waiting for Tony to say something. The moment stretches so long that he hears the error tone play through the speakers on Steve’s phone, and the automated lady asks if he’d like to record the message again.
“Do you really want me to go?” Steve asks, and the slump of his shoulders makes up Tony’s mind.
“No,” he says, grabbing the front of Steve’s shirt. He moves so suddenly he spills the scotch onto the carpet and bumps his head against the top of the desk, but it hardly matters. When he presses his cheek against Steve’s scratchy one, he knows they’re still meant to be.
They’re quiet. Steve runs his hand up and down Tony’s back, and Tony takes increasingly steady breaths against the crook of his neck. He hates that he doesn’t recognize the shirt Steve’s wearing. Tony hates that he can no longer pick up the scent of his own cologne on Steve’s skin— hates that instead it’s…
He pulls back, loops his arms around Steve’s neck, and frowns. “Why do you smell like one of those little trees they hang in cars?”
“Sam said you wouldn’t notice,” Steve winces. “I rubbed one under my armpit. I haven’t showered in two days.”
A beat of silence.
“Stop laughing at me!”
“ Oh my god .”
“I was heartbroken!”
“I’m sorry,” Tony says, even though he’s still laughing. He presses his lips between Steve’s eyes and pulls back to look at him. “You were heartbroken,” he agrees, and Steve leans up to kiss him, and, hey, maybe they can have a normal fight.
Tony builds Steve a house that’s three stories high with a skylight in the living room and ample room in the yard for more than one dog.
“Three dogs, max.”
“Two dogs, Steven Grant Rogers, and it’s really not up for discussion unless you want to end up on one of those Animal Planet reality shows.”
They make the basement intentionally small and cozy, crowding it with old couches and framed pictures of their friends that are too embarrassing to put upstairs. In the corner is the foosball table from Steve and Bucky’s first apartment. Under the Lazy Boy is the plastic blow-up hammer Thor likes to wave around when he’s drunk.
“We need a dart board for Clint,” Tony sighs, falling back onto a beanbag chair and throwing an arm over his face.
“And a pull-up bar for Nat,” Steve agrees, sitting down on the floor next to him and propping himself up against the wall. “Maybe somewhere quiet for Bruce to sneak off, when we’re having a party.”
“We have too many children. This is so not a problem I ever thought I’d have.”
“If you count our three dogs, we have even more.”
“I’m actually going to punch you.”
Tony gets an interior designer to set up everything except the walls, which he leaves blank so Steve can paint murals in the hallways. He sketches out a cartoonish shawarma wrap in the kitchen, a more realistic flock of birds mid-flight up the staircase, and a glowing, mechanical heart in the bedroom.
“What’s this?” Tony asks, running his hand over the faint blue lines.
“I don’t know,” Steve shrugs, wrapping his arms around Tony’s waist and hooking his chin over Tony’s shoulder. “You, maybe.”
Tony builds Steve a house and he still has the audacity to wake up every day with the seemingly insatiable desire to give Steve more.
“You think it’s big enough?” Tony asks, taking a bite of burnt toast. He is literally incapable of using the toaster correctly and Steve has no idea why he insists on trying, day after day.
“If it gets any bigger people are going to get the wrong idea about your ego.”
“Fine. I’ll put you down for a ‘considering it.’”
Steve wants to think something like ‘in the end, it’s simple’, but there is no end, really. Every morning he wakes up with Tony stretched out across the sheets next to him and knows, with absolute, unwavering certainty, that they have infinite time. They don’t have to worry anymore, because Tony built Steve a house and made Steve a home, and they get to spend the rest of their lives filling it with the things they love.
“What do you want to do today?” Tony asks, tucking his head into the pillow of his arms.
“You can pick.”
Tony makes a throaty snorting sound and shifts so that he’s twisted even tighter in the blankets, dappled sunlight spilling across the expanse of his back.
“You trust me?” he asks, head tilted to the side.
Steve’s mouth curves into a gentle smile. “I do.”
Tony proceeds to rattle off a list of deeply disturbing suggestions, and for reasons that are entirely incomprehensible, Steve can only lean back against the headboard and think ‘We finally got it right.’