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Steve is having a perfectly normal day right up until Tony Stark appears in front of his desk in Algebra.

“Here’s the deal,” Tony says. “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars to pretend to date me.”

Steve stares at him, but only for a second.

“No thanks,” he says, and looks back down at his algebra worksheet. He’s supposed to have answered ten questions, he has five completed and the class starts in two minutes. He doesn’t have time for whatever shenanigans Tony is involved in this week.

But Tony doesn’t leave. Instead he shifts on the spot and sighs through his teeth.

“Wow, that was fast. You don’t even want to consider it?”

“Not really.”

“Ouch,” Tony mutters. Then, louder, “I could help you with your algebra. If that’s something you’re having problems with.”

Steve pauses. Looks up at Tony again. He’s the same as ever - an effortlessly cool button-down and jeans that cost more than Steve’s monthly rent. He’s also uncharacteristically nervous, bouncing from foot to foot.

“You want me to fake date you,” Steve says.

Tony nods, slides into the seat next to him. “You know Ty?”

“Yeah, I know Ty.” The slimy asshole who bullies indiscriminately, not through punches, or anything teachers can punish him for - no, Ty is the kind of bully you don’t want to run into. He’s devious about it, saying something so innocent that he can pass it off as an accident as he chips down a student’s self worth with each comment. The fact that Tony had dated him says a lot about his character, since Steve doubts Tony was fooled by Ty’s Nice Guy act - Tony’s smart. He would’ve picked something up.

Steve continues, “You guys were dating.”

“We were. Emphasis on  were . I broke up with him, it’s been two months and he won’t leave me alone. I figured if I found someone new, he’d get the hint that I’m really,  really  not taking him back.”

Steve considers. “Why don’t you just, oh, I don’t know -  actually  date someone?”

“Too much effort.”

Steve snorts. Effort. Right.

“I don’t like anyone right now, alright,” Tony says. “If I fake-date someone, we’ll be on the same page and we won’t break up until the problem’s solved. If I was to actually date someone, there’d be too many variables. So, are you in or not?”

Steve blows out a breath and leans back in his chair. He can turn the homework assignment in half-done, or finish it during class. 

He says, “You know people won’t actually believe you’re dating me, right?”

Tony frowns. He actually looks confused, which is - nice of him. Maybe. 

“Ri-ight,” Tony says. “Refresh my memory as to why they won’t?”

“We’re not exactly-” Steve gestures between them. “On the same level.”

Tony narrows his eyes. “I can’t tell if that’s a dig at me or you.”

“Why would it be a dig at you,” Steve says, and before Tony can answer, Steve says, “We wouldn’t have to - do anything, right?”

Tony’s mouth twitches. “Actually, Ty will need at least three sex tapes - no, you won’t have to ‘do anything.’ We’d hold hands,  maybe  kiss if your delicate sensibilities can handle it. Regular couple stuff.”

Steve eyes him. This doesn’t seem like a joke. Tony can be a dick, but he doesn’t go out of his way to be mean unless someone messes with him or his friends first.  Then  he can make people cry. But Steve, as far as he knows, hasn’t done anything to him. This is probably their longest conversation yet.

“Why me,” Steve says.

Tony opens his mouth. Then he closes it. “Uh. You seem like the kind of guy who might not screw me over,” he says slowly. “From the little I know about you from attending the same school for years. And, y’know. You were the first person I saw when I walked into class.”

Steve laughs. “Oh, well, in that case.”

Tony perks up. “You’ll do it?”

“I-” Steve sighs. Bucky and Natasha are coming in, both of them giving him a look when they notice him talking to Tony. They’re going to have a field day.

“You’ll help me get my grades up?”

“Fuck yes I will,” Tony says. “You want As? I can get you them. I’ll be a better teacher than Ms. Frizzle. And you can get a car or something with the ten grand. Do you have your license yet?”

“Whoa, I’m not-” Steve lowers his voice. “I’m not taking the money. Just tutoring is fine.”

“Oh.” Tony blinks at him, his expression going near distrust. “You’re… turning the money down?”


“You’ll really just do it for free algebra tutoring.”


Tony takes a breath in, but the teacher cuts him off by telling everyone to get into their assigned seats.

“Shit,” Tony says, getting up. “Okay, we’ll go over details later. See you at lunch?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Great.” Tony beams, then leans down and kisses Steve on the cheek. “Bye, honeybunch.”

Steve’s cheeks burn with it. He can already feel stares on him, not the least of which from Bucky and Natasha. Less than ten seconds after the kiss, his phone is vibrating with texts.

Steve holds in a sigh. Okay. He  might  end up regretting this.

“So Tony might be coming to sit with us,” Steve announces as he sits down at his usual lunch table. “Or something. Details were unclear.”

“Tony… Stark,” Sam says, voice muffled by his ham sandwich. 

“That one,” Steve nods. 

Sam looks towards Bucky and Natasha, both of whom, Steve bets, have big shit-eating grins.

“Whaaat’s going on,” Sam says. “Something’s happening.”

“Steve’s in a scheme,” Natasha says quietly.

Sam looks over at Steve, who shrugs wearily.

“Apparently I’m in a scheme,” Steve says. “Keep it quiet.”

“What’s the scheme,” Sam says.

As if he was waiting for it, Tony appears at the table next to Steve.

“Speak of the devil,” Steve says. He turns in his chair. “Hi, Tony.”

“Hi, babe,” Tony says, resting a hand on Steve’s arm. 

Sam makes a bizarre noise in his throat.

“I told my friends,” Steve says. “Is that alright? They won’t tell anyone.”

Tony keeps a smile on his face. “Told them about our newfound love, you mean?”

Steve has to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing. “Sure. Also other things.”

Tony shifts on the spot, but his smile turns more genuine. “Yeah, that’s fine. As long as everyone’s quiet about it.” He doesn’t look much convinced that they will be.

“You can trust them,” Steve says mildly. He looks around Tony to his lunch table, where Rhodey and Pepper are watching with dubious expressions. He gives them a wave.

“Just wanted to confirm that we’re still on,” Tony says. “And get your number so we can talk details.”

“Right,” Steve says. He gets out his phone, gives it to Tony, and takes Tony’s phone to type his own number in. When the phones are handed back, Steve has Tony’s number under the contact name ‘BF <3.’

Steve chokes on a laugh.

“That’s right, I’m a riot,” Tony says. “Anyway! Guess I’ll be seeing you.”

“Guess so,” Steve says. 

Tony squeezes his shoulder. Steve waits for him to kiss his cheek, but Tony just walks off, back to his table, where Rhodey and Pepper immediately start in on him in, Steve expects, the same way that his friends immediately close in.

So ,” Sam says. 

“Schemes,” Natasha says. 

Bucky claps a hand on Steve’s back. “Well, shit. Good luck, Stevie.”

“Thank you,” Steve says. At a loss of what else to do, he takes a bite of his sandwich.

“Are you guys - what, pretending to date? What  happened ,” Sam asks.

Steve sighs. “Can one of you fill him in? I’m eating.”

Nat and Bucky are all too happy to. Steve eats his sandwich and doesn’t look over at Tony, or really anywhere else - he’s been getting looked at more today than he’s been looked at in the whole of high school, which means the news is spreading fast.

They meet up on the football field after school to go over the details. Steve sits down on the grass and after a moment Tony sits, too.

“So,” Tony says. “I drew up a contract- what, why the laughing?”

Steve shrugs. “You  drew up a contract ? What are we, adults? Lawyers?”

“We might need a contract! People sue.”

People  sue,” Steve says. “I don’t sue. How would I sue you?”

“Maybe I’ll sue you.”
“Sure! Sue me for all my three dollars and my Ma’s rented apartment.”

Tony doesn’t seem to know what to do with that, but he clears his throat.

“So,” he repeats. “We need to come up with rules. For the contract.”

“Great,” Steve says. He reaches down and pulls out a few strands of grass, starting to make a grass chain, poking them through each other. “No groping.”

Tony laughs loud and then tries to cover it. “N - alright. Sure, thank you for pointing that out.  No groping, ” he says as he types it in. “Anything else? No petting? No fondling?”

“That counts as groping.”

“I think your understanding of groping is misguided.”

“I think  your  understanding of groping is misguided.”

Tony grins. He hides it, like he’d tried to cover the laugh, but he can’t twist his lips into anything other than a smile. It’s strangely gratifying, but Steve doesn’t let that go to his head. So he can make Tony Stark grin - so what?

“Right,” Tony says. “Seriously though, what else is off limits?”

“What’s  in  limits,” Steve asks.

Tony cocks his head. “General G-rated couple stuff? Holding hands. Whispering sweet nothings. Whatever makes it look convincing, but nothing that’ll invade your personal bubble too much.”

“Whispering sweet nothings,” Steve repeats. “When did you  ever  whisper sweet nothings with Ty?”

“Don’t talk about exes on the first date, Steve, God.” Tony taps something into the contract, then shows Steve:  Required: hand-holding. Sweet nothings.

“I’ll whisper  something ,” Steve says, “but it won’t be a sweet nothing.”

“I look forward to it,” Tony says dryly. “Right! Anything else?”

Steve flounders. “Uh,” he says. “Other than the people we’ve already told, we don’t tell anyone else. Like - our parents. It’ll be too difficult to explain.”

“Done,” Tony says, whip-fast. “What else?”

Steve pulls out some more grass, adds it to the chain so he has something to look at, to do with his hands.

“Look,” he says. “I don’t - I don’t know much about being in a relationship, alright? I’m not a lot of help here.”

Tony gives him a look that’s almost uncertain. “You mean you haven’t…”

“I mean I haven’t,” Steve says, and waits for Tony to crack that one open.

But Tony doesn’t. All he does is tap something into the contract, then hold the phone out for Steve to see.

Failsafe:  -

“For you to tap out of a situation,” Tony says. “Like a safeword.”

“Oh good, we have a safeword,” Steve mutters. He looks up. “What word works for both of us, that wouldn’t make us look weird if we’re in public?”

“Am I involved in this?”

“Sure. You might want to tap out, too.”

Tony doesn’t look like he’s considered this, but he shrugs. “Alright, uhhhh. How about… dewdrop?”


“Yeah. It can be an innocent pet name, but when one of us says it, we know we need to bail.”

Steve thinks about it. 

“Sounds good,” he says.

Tony nods, typing it in.  Failsafe: Dewdrop. 

“Okay. Anything else? We can add on as we go, if we need to.”

“Sounds good,” Steve repeats. 

Tony tilts the phone towards him again. “Sign here,” he says, and Steve does, right above where Tony signs his own name a few seconds later.


After that, all there is to do is get tutored and act like a couple.

It’s - something.

For one, Steve’s never gotten this many looks before. Whenever he’s with Tony it seems like there’s at least one person watching him, their faces twisted in morbid curiosity or vague disbelief. It’s not very flattering, but Steve is holding out for the free tutoring.

Tony either doesn’t notice the staring or he doesn’t care. Steve figures he’s probably used to it by now, being  Tony Stark  and all.

They hold hands in the halls, which means they have to arrange to meet up before class and then walk around for people to see them.

“We could just do this during lunch,” Steve points out, but Tony shushes him.

“We’re being conspicuous,” he says. “Laugh at something I said.”

Steve gives him a look and lets out the most wooden laugh he can manage.

“This is gonna go great,” Tony says under his breath.

Steve squeezes his hand hard. Tony squeezes it back, and then they’re in a squeezing battle to see who gives in first, which Tony relents faster than Steve expects.

“Alright! Okay. Don’t listen to me, you’re doing  great . Look, can you at least - pretend to be having a good time with me? It’s kind of a requirement of dating. At first, anyway.”

Steve tries to come up with a smile that doesn’t feel absolutely ridiculous on his face. He’s saved from this when Ty emerges from around the corner, zeroing in on them like he could see through walls and thus already knew they were there.

He spreads his arms wide as he approaches. “Tony,” he says, beaming. He doesn’t look over at Steve.

Tony’s hand tightens on Steve’s again, but this time seems less pointed, as he also presses their shoulders together, like Steve’s some kind of comfort.

“Ty,” Tony says. He’s smiling, but his face is screaming  fuck off l ouder than if he’d yelled it. 

“How are  you ,” Ty says. He comes to a stop in front of them, stopping them from walking. “You look good.”

“Don’t I always?” Tony adjusts his grip on Steve’s hand and Steve lets him angle their joined hands so they’re more prominent. “Hey Ty, have you met Steve?”

Ty finally glances over. “Steve, right. Isn’t your mom a nurse?”

Steve isn’t surprised the guy is saying it in a bad way, but how the fuck does this guy know what Steve’s mom does?

“She is,” Steve says, trying for polite and unaffected. “Best nurse in Brooklyn.”

“Aw,” Ty says. “Isn’t that sweet. Tony, your new guy is sweet.”

“Like sugar,” Tony says, with a pitched laugh that makes Steve a little worried. “Anyway, me and Steve are busy right now.”

“Oh, that’s too bad! I was hoping we could catch up.”

“We’ve caught up already,” Tony says, pressing his arm hard into Steve’s. “Bye, Ty.”

“Bye, Tones.”

Tony pulls and Steve is all too happy to follow. They all but speedwalk around the corner, at which point Steve says, “Huh. What a jackass.”

Tony’s laugh, when it comes, it less pitched and more relieved. He gives Steve an unreadable look, says, “Yeah. Hence, you. Good job back there, by the way. Didn’t give him an inch.”

“I try not to, with bullies,” Steve says. He squeezes Tony’s hand again, because it feels like the thing to do and also he’s constantly hyper-aware that he’s holding someone’s hand. It’s a weight at the back of his head in a way that he hadn’t expected.

Why were you ever DATING him,  Steve wants to say.

“So he’s really been bothering you,” he says instead.

“No, this was just a bit of fun, you know, the whole fake-dating thing,” Tony says. “Yeah, he’s really been bothering me.”

“Have you tried getting a restraining order?”

“Eh, he hasn’t done anything that bad yet. Just-”

“Being a creep.”

“Yeah. So unless he starts sneaking into my room in the middle of the night to watch me sleep, I’m sticking with using you to ward him off.”

“Happy to help,” Steve says, and finds he kind of means it. Even with the whole he-used-to-date-Ty thing, Tony is an okay guy.

Tony gives him another unreadable look, which then unfurls into something that Steve thinks looks a little disbelieving, as they come to a stop in front of the gym. 

They drop each other’s hands.

“Have a good class,” Steve says.

“Uh-huh,” Tony says. “You, too. Hey, with the tutoring-”


“Where works for you? You want to do it at school, or at your house, or?”

Steve thinks about it. The buses are complicated, so he’d rather just go home straight after school than hang around and risk getting home much later than he wants.

“At my house, if that’s alright.”

Tony bobs his head. “Fine. That’s fine.”

He seems kind of lost, so Steve clears his throat and says, “Uh, let me know if Ty bothers you again.”

Tony blinks. “Sure,” he says, and then with a teasing smile that doesn’t go all the way to his eyes: “What a good boyfriend.”

“You get what you signed up for,” Steve says, which effectively stops the conversation in its tracks. They stand there for a few more seconds before Steve says, “Well, bye,” and Tony blurts the same back at him, and Steve leaves Tony to head to his class.

He feels like an idiot the whole way there, but isn’t really sure why that is, so he does his best to shake it off.


There’s a test coming up in Algebra, so Tony comes over the next day. He sits on the bus like he’s never been on one before, and this turns out to be the case when Steve asks him. 

“How do you get around,” Steve asks when Tony drops that bombshell. Not using public transport in New York?

“I have a driver,” Tony says, like that’s a normal fucking thing to say. He does have the sense to look uncomfortable while saying it, which Steve - might give him credit for.

Steve sits back in the bus seat and nods. “Driver. Right. Cool.”

He pictures the apartment they’re heading towards, the small rooms and the thin walls and the shabby furniture. None of their dishes match. None of their  chairs  match, not even the ones around the kitchen table, which also doubles as a laundry table. Steve tries to remember if they have laundry on it right now.

“Cool,” Steve repeats under his breath, and is jolted from his worries when the bus pulls over at their stop. “Come on, sometimes the next bus comes when this one parks.”

“Next bus?”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “That ticket the bus driver gave you, you can use that as a transfer.”

Tony looks down at the ticket he’s been holding onto ever since Steve told him to keep it, and then apologizes when he bumps into a woman as he follows Steve off the bus.

“Yeah, there it is,” Steve says. “Hoof it.”

Hoof  it?” Tony says, but ups the pace as they head for the next bus, which has indeed pulled up as their last bus had. 

There’s no rush after they make it on, but Steve moves fast for a seat anyway, since the drivers are never the type to wait until everyone’s seated to take off. He has to grab Tony’s sleeve to steady them both when the bus pulls back into the street just as they’re sitting down.

“Oof,” Tony says as he falls into his seat a second after. 

Steve eyes him. Tony had given the driver the most awkward smile as he’d handed him the ticket, like he was visiting a foriegn country and wasn’t entirely sure of their customs, but wanted to make sure he was doing it right. Tony also keeps glancing around like he might be missing something, or like he’s taking it all in.

Whole new world , Steve almost tells him, but decides against it at the last moment.

It’s a pretty silent twenty minutes to their next stop, and then Steve nudges for Tony to get up.

“We’re here,” he says, and waits for Tony to slide out of the aisle seat before following him off the bus. Then Steve takes the lead, half a block down the street to his apartment building.

“Watch your step,” Steve tells Tony as they start on the rickety stairs of the building. “Lotta people fall down these.”

“Got it,” Tony says behind him.

Steve concentrates on his own steps, because it doesn’t matter how long he’s lived here - whenever he gets too confident, that’s when he trips. He makes it to the top of the stairs, unlocks the door, and steps into the apartment.

There’s no laundry on the kitchen table, which is a start.

Steve slings his bag onto the couch. When he turns around, Tony has closed the door and is standing there with his hands in his pockets, glancing around and then zeroing back in on Steve, then glancing around again like he can’t stop looking.

Steve bites down a flush of annoyance. Rich kids.

“I know, a mere two bedroom apartment,” Steve says. “You can put your bag on the couch, we’re sit at the kitchen table.”

“Oh, uh. I wasn’t…” Tony trails off and puts his bag on the couch. If he has anything to say about the kitchen and the lounge blending into one room, he doesn’t comment. He sits down at the kitchen table and crosses his arms, then uncrosses them.

Steve sets down his algebra homework, gets out a pen, says, “So?”


Steve points at Tony. “Tutor.” He points at himself. “Tutee. You’re supposed to tell me how to do this.”

Tony nods, eyes a little wide, and it’s at this point that Steve realizes Tony’s probably never taught anyone anything before this.
“This should be interesting,” Steve says, and sighs.

Tony waves him down. “No, okay, let’s just - how about you try a problem, and tell me how you got it, and we’ll go from there.”

Sounds like a good start to Steve.


Twenty minutes later, he’s seriously reconsidering.

He takes a deep breath through his nose, then breathes it out. “All I’m asking is for you to explain it in a more  simple-

“This is simple,” Tony all but yells, and then lowers his voice like he’s visibly restraining himself. “It’s simple. This is as simple as I can get it. If you just do what I-”

“What you’re saying makes no sense.”

“It obviously DOES, because look!” Tony grabs the sheet and scribbles out the workings, then the answer. “I just did it!”

“Could you-” Steve does some more deep breathing. Reminds himself that Tony is an okay guy when he’s not being impatient, irrational asshole. 

“Do you want me to explain it again,” Tony asks, with the clear tone of  why .

Steve takes the paper back. “Actually,” he says. “Do you want some orange juice.”

Tony pauses. “Do I what?”

“Juice,” Steve says. “I just realized I never offered you anything. We have water or juice.”

Tony blinks at him. Steve’s just as surprised as he is that they aren’t still arguing, but Steve had figured that with everything he knew about himself and the small things he knew about Tony, they could keep arguing until they screamed themselves raw, so a break might help that not to happen. Or at least delay it.

“I could go for a juice,” Tony says.

Steve gets up and pours them two glasses. He gives Tony the bigger glass, because he’s a good host, and sits back in his chair. The break seems to have worked: Tony is looking around at the apartment again, lingering on the crappy TV and the shaggy tablecloth and the chairs with chips in the wood.

Steve’s honestly surprised they’re classy enough to own a tablecloth.

“You should be in AP,” Steve says. 


“Everything,” Steve says. “I see you in class, you don’t do anything, but you always score high on tests. And you correct the teachers sometimes. Everyone says you could be in college already if you wanted, but you’re keeping yourself back. There’s a bunch of rumours about why.”

“What’s your favourite?”

“Rumour? Uh.” Steve thinks about it. “You’re in love with Ms. Neidermier.” 

That folds Tony in half with laughter, and Steve beats back the glow of pride.

“Ms. Neid -  Jesus . She’s my  Mom’s  age. That’s hilarious. I love it,” Tony says, still giggling weakly. He takes a gulp of juice, then looks into the glass, swilling it around. Steve assumes he’s thinking about how watery it is, considering to his usual pulpy juice that rich people drink. Do rich people drink orange juice? Or do they drink fancier fruit juices? Pomegranate juice, or - kale juice. No, that would be awful.

“So what’s the truth,” Steve asks.

Tony’s giggles peter off. He looks into his juice some more.

“Oh, the Niedermier thing,” he says after a second. “Madly, deeply in love. Can’t get enough.”

Steve figures he wouldn’t tell himself if he was in this position, either.

“You two do have a charge between you,” he says dryly.

Tony laughs again. “Oh, yeah. Soon as I turn 18, I’m locking that woman down.”

“You can propose at graduation.”

“God, that would be great. Imagine her  face .”

“Your parents probably wouldn’t appreciate it,” Steve says. He says it lightly, but Tony’s face ticks and falls in a way that makes Steve feel like he should apologize.

As he’s opening his mouth to change the subject back to algebra, the front door opens.

Steve freezes like a deer in headlights. Beside him, Tony says, “Do we-”

He’s cut off by Sarah Rogers, who comes inside in her scrubs, pulling her hair out of her ponytail and chucking her handbag on the couch and shucking off her jacket onto a hook, all the while saying, “Stevie, remember how you said no one would throw up on me this week and I told you to touch wood so you wouldn’t jinx it but there wasn’t any wood about ‘cause we were in the supermarket, well,  guess  what-”

She falters when she turns and spots Tony.

“Oh,” she says. “Hi! Hi, I don’t think I’ve seen you before. I’m Sarah.”

“I’m Tony,” Tony says. He’s smiling, but it has a little bit of the panic in it that he’d had before with Ty. Still, he stands and heads over to Sarah to shake her hand.

Sarah shakes it, glancing over at Steve with raised eyebrows. 

I don’t know , Steve mouths. “He’s helping me with algebra.”

Sarah rubs Tony’s shoulder. “Oh, that’s so nice of you.”

“That’s me,” Tony says. “Nice guy.”

“Uh-huh,” Steve says, instead of  the tutoring is a transaction, I’m pretending to date him until his ex leaves him alone . “Ma, you’re home early.”

“I know!” She heads over to him, gives him the usual forehead kiss and hug. “Someone offered to take over my shift early. Bless those young ones. Tony, want to stay for dinner? We’re having meatloaf.”

Tony’s mouth opens and closes. “Uhhhhh-”

“You’re welcome to keep helping Steve with his algebra, I’ll just be in the kitchen shoving stuff around. Won’t be too loud.”

Tony looks towards Steve, who is about to say  Tony has a thing, he needs to leave , but then he remembers his homework, which has eight problems to go and Steve only knows how to do three of them.

“He’s sticking around for a bit,” Steve says. “I don’t know if he can stay for dinner, though.”

Tony nods hard and shoots back to his seat. 

“Fine by me,” Sarah says. “I’m making enough for leftovers, though, so let me know if anyone’s plans change.”

“Will do,” Steve says. “Thanks, Ma.”

Sarah heads into the kitchen, which is half-separated from the lounge by a counter, and is otherwise more or less the same room as the lounge. She hums as she starts getting things out of the fridge.

“O-okay,” Tony says. “Uh. What question were we on?”

Steve tells him, then says, “We’re going through it slower this time.”

“Right,” Tony says. He glances at Sarah, then back at the sheet. “Okay. So-”

Later, Steve can’t pinpoint the moment that Tony ends up staying for dinner, but he thinks it starts with Sarah asking Tony about himself from the kitchen - how did he and Steve meet, how did Tony get so good at algebra, why does he like it, where does he live - and Tony keeps giving startlingly polite answers.

It’s weird. Tony is more polite to Sarah than he’s seen Tony be to anyone, even when he stops being all stiff about it. Steve watches, mistified, as Tony gets flustered from Sarah telling him he seems like a very smart young man. Who is this guy?

“Thanks,” Tony says in reply, quiet, and it clicks - Sarah keeps complimenting him. Tony doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, which is just - even weirder. Tony gets compliments all the time. He must. He’s Tony Stark. Why is he being all weird over Sarah telling him he’s smart? Tony knows he’s smart, Tony must know he’s smarter than most people know. 

Anyway, about halfway through Sarah’s questions he starts acting more like himself, making jokes and being a smartass, though he does scale it down a lot. He keeps sneaking looks at Steve like Steve’s gonna rat him out.

In several minute-long bursts where Sarah is particularly busy with dinner, the worksheet gets completed. Tony coaches Steve through it with a patience that is definitely helped along by Sarah’s presence, and even he seems surprised when they reach the end and they haven’t yelled at each other again. They’d bickered, sure, but nothing that didn’t make Sarah laugh at them.

They’re just finishing up when Sarah says, “Well, meatloaf should be out of the oven in a few minutes. You sure you want to head out, Tony?”

Tony hesitates. 

Steve makes the call.

“He can stay,” he says. “Right?”

“Sure - yeah, sure.” Tony nods, with more surprise than Steve would’ve expected. “I’d love some meatloaf.”



So Steve eats dinner with his Ma - a depressingly rare occurrence, since she works so much - and Tony Stark. If Steve had known this was going to happen last month, he’d never have been able to come up with a reason why.

Fake dating resulting in tutoring, apparently.

“Was that okay,” Tony asks as they’re putting their dishes in the kitchen. “That I stayed-”

“Yeah, I said you could.” But Tony doesn’t look convinced, so Steve nudges him with his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. It was a good time. You’re actually not bad to hang out with.”

“Thanks,” Tony says dryly, and then, after checking over his shoulder: “ Honey .”

“God,” Steve says. “I nearly forgot. We should probably get used to the whole - that, right?”

“The whole that,” Tony nods. “Gotta be convincing.”

“I can be convincing.”

“Yeah, you weren’t visibly comfortable at all when we were holding hands in the hall.”

“I-” Steve considers. “Okay, yeah. But I’ll get better.”

“You weren’t  bad , just-”

“Not used to it.”

“Yeah. And that could just be early-relationship jitters.”

“Right,” Steve says. “I’ll be less jittery.”

They stand there until Sarah comes back into the lounge and they almost trip over each other trying to look normal. Going off of the look Sarah gives them, they don’t do a great job.

After Tony leaves, Sarah says, “He was nice.”

“Mm,” Steve says. “I’m gonna go do some more homework in my room.”

“He was really nice,” Sarah says pointedly, and Steve says, “Yup,” and avoids her gaze as he retreats towards the hall.

“He seemed very interested in if  you  thought he was nice,” Sarah calls, and Steve turns around out of the sheer wrongness of that statement.

“Tony Stark doesn’t care if anyone thinks he’s nice,” he says, and even coming out of his mouth it sits a little wrong, because now he knows that’s not exactly true.

Sarah shrugs. “He kept checking your reactions.”

Steve doesn’t know what to say to that, but Sarah doesn’t say anything else, and Steve retreats into his room for the rest of the night.

The lie continues.

It’s pretty chilled out, honestly. Steve gets more or less used to holding hands with Tony in the halls, and sitting with him at lunch - Tony drags Pepper and Rhodey over more often than not after the first week, and they turn out to be cool to talk to. Both of them are smart in a way that intimidates Steve, but neither of them are haughty about it, so they get along. They’re both down to earth in a way that makes Steve wonder how they ended up friends with Tony, but Steve is also kind of friends with Tony, so he can’t judge.

Friends  is a new revelation. It takes him a couple of weeks to realize that he’s enjoying his time with Tony as much as he does. Even the tutoring becomes enjoyable, after Tony learns that getting mad and yelling isn’t the best teaching method. Most tutoring sessions they have to bring themselves back to focusing on the worksheet so many times that they set a timer to remind them that they have a time limit to get this done and they can’t just banter for two straight hours.

Which, as it turns out, is easy to do. One reason fake-dating gets so easy is that it’s pretty easy talking to Tony in a way a boyfriend might - that is, Steve can look deeply engaged in their talks and laugh a lot. It’s also far too easy to let his gaze linger on Tony’s face, his eyes and lips; to lean in close when he talks; to touch in a casual way when they’re within touching distance, entwining their hands or pressing their shoulders together or sitting close.

All of that is so easy it’s worrying. And because it’s worrying, Steve does his absolute damndest not to think about it. 

“You’re getting really good at this fake-boyfriend thing,” Tony tells him around week four as they’re roaming the halls. “Very convincing. I’d think you were in love with me.”

Steve’s heart twists in a way that makes him remember his past heart problems. He knows he’s fine now, but this makes him want a doctor.

“I did say I’d get better at it,” he says. “And you’re not so bad yourself. Earlier, when you were zoning out because you were staring at me? That looked really real.”

Tony kicks at a penny that’s been glued down to the floor. “Yup! That’s me. I’m very good.”

There’s a thread of stress under his voice. 

Steve asks, “Is Ty still-”

“Oh, yeah.” Tony grimaces. “Yeah, no movement on that front. I thought he’d… but no, he’s. Pretty determined.”

“He’ll get over it,” Steve assures him. He gives his hand a squeeze.

Tony squeezes back. “I don’t know. Apparently I’m hard to get over.”

Steve has no clue how to respond, so he just keeps walking.

The lunch table has the usual suspects, which now means Steve’s friends, plus the new additions of Tony, Rhodey and Pepper.

“I don’t get how you can eat that stuff,” Rhodey says, pointing a fork (also brought from home, like his lunch) at Sam’s food.

“Oh, it’s easy.” Sam spears off a hunk of dubiously coloured meat. “It’s this or I make my own lunches, which means I gotta get up before 5. If you’re really sad for me, though, can I snag a piece of sushi?”

“I’m not that sad for you,” Rhodey says.

“Come on! You have  sushi .”

“I made it. It’s not like I have a chef hand it to me as I walk out the door-”

“Look at my lunch, Rhodey! Look at it. What is this meat? Lamb? Pork? Mankind doesn’t  know . You have salmon!”

Steve leans over to Tony. “Don’t you love it when our friends get along, sweetums?”

“I  do , babe. So heartwarming,” Tony says.

Beside Steve, Natasha laughs.

“You guys don’t have to keep it up in front of us,” she says. 

Steve shrugs. “We’re in the cafeteria. People might notice if we stop using petnames.”

“People also might appreciate being spared the torture of sitting through it,” Bucky says, with a pointed look at Natasha that’s way more long-suffering than it deserves to be.

Steve kicks him under the table. “We’re not that bad.”

It’s met with a series of groans and headshakes.

“We’re pretty nauseating,” Tony points out.

“We’re not,” Steve says, and then kisses Tony on the cheek, making it smack extra loud. “Schnookums.”

Bucky lobs a piece of meat at him. Steve dodges it so it lands harmlessly on the floor behind him.

“How dare you throw your food at my boyfriend,” Tony says. “My dearest heart. My pudding cup. My-”

Rhodey shoves him and Steve can’t even be mad about it. They  can  be pretty bad, even if this is just to piss off their friends.

“So who’s going to the party on Saturday,” Sam asks after the brief Rhodey-and-Tony shoving match has died down.

Rhodey shakes his head. “Can’t. My grandma’s taking me to a play.”

“That sounds like the worse excuse in the world,” Sam says, then when Rhodey starts to protest: “No, I one hundred percent believe you, man. I’m just saying, if anyone else said it-”

“I don’t go to Hammer parties,” Pepper says.

“I’m going,” Natasha says. “But only for the free booze.”

Bucky clinks his fork with hers.

“I guess I’ll make an appearance,” Tony says, then looks sideways at Steve. “Orrr… we could make a joint appearance? It won’t help you if you want to get laid-”

“Why would I want that, I’m dating you,” Steve says. “I mean - you know what I mean.”

Tony shrugs. “I can’t tell you what to do with your life. So, wanna go?”

Steve considers. He usually doesn’t go to Hammer parties either, content to hear about them on Natasha’s snapchat story, but -

“Sure,” he says, ignoring it when Bucky, Sam and Natasha all turn to look at him. 

“Great!” Tony beams. “I’ll pick you up at eight.”

“Ha,” Steve says. “I’m taking the bus.”

“You can’t take the  bus , it’s all the way on-”

“It’s only an hour’s ride.”

Exactly . I’ll see you at ten.”

“I’m not getting in your limo, Tony.”

“I won’t bring the limo.”

Steve stares at him. He puts down his fork. “Oh god, you actually have a limo?”

“No,” Tony says, but the pause before it is enough to damn him.

Steve sighs. “Whatever your least expensive car available is. We can go in that.”

“Done,” Tony says.


During free period, Steve and Tony meet in the library.

“Alright,” Tony says as they sit down. “I did some examples of this new theory we’re on. You can copy it down, then we can apply it to new problems. Sound good?”

“Sounds good,” Steve says, and peers over the notebook Tony slides over to him. He looks at the algebra, but his gaze quickly slides up to the series of complicated equations in the first half of the page. “What’re these?”

“What’re what? Oh, those are just-” Tony waves a hand. “Stuff.”


“I got bored.”

“So you…” Steve skims a finger over one of them. It looks like some Good Will Hunting shit. “Decided to get started on your college degree in Math-That-Hasn't-Been-Officially-Invented?”

“It’s not-” Tony puts a textbook over that half of the page. “You’re supposed to be focusing. Focus.”

“I’m focusing,” Steve says, pushing the textbook up so he can see a sliver of what Tony’s been working on. “Tony, this looks really complicated. You should be in college. You should be doing  postgrad .”

“You have literally no idea what kind of Math this is.”

“Yeah, but you always - the things you say sometimes, Tony. You go off on tangents about something that no one knows anything about, and when you do it to teachers you leave all of them in the dust. You know it and they know it.”

Tony rolls his eyes, but doesn’t deny it. Instead he rolls his tongue around in his mouth.

“Tony,” Steve starts, but Tony stops him.

“So maybe I was on track to go to college early. And maybe I decided to try public school after boarding school before I went to college, to get - socialized properly. To hang out with kids my own age for the first time in my life. And  maybe  I ran into Rhodey and Pep and had friends for the first time in my life, and realized that I’d take them over college in a heartbeat. College will always be there when I get around to it. So what if I’m letting the Stark name down? I’m - I’m being a normal teenager. I have friends. That’s better than college.”

He looks down at the table for all of this, and doesn’t look up when he finishes.

Steve goes to take his hand, then stops. There’s no one around right now, so there isn’t any excuse to do it.

“Wow,” Tony says after a pregnant silence. “That sounded way more pathetic out loud than it did in my head.”

“I didn’t have any friends until I was eight,” Steve says.


“I didn’t have any friends, either. Not until Bucky. But before that…” Steve shrugs. “You’re not pathetic.”

“I don’t know,” Tony says. “Eight is okay. Fourteen is - sad.”

“It’s not.”

“Pretty sure it is.”

“It’s not,” Steve says. “It’s - you went to boarding school with kids way older than you, right? And before that-?”


“Yeah. No one could’ve made friends with all of that going on.”

Tony’s hand splays out on the textbook he’s put over the equations. His fingernails tap erratically.

“Maybe,” he allows. He clears his throat, sits back. “Anyway, you’re - distracting. Do the work, you big layabout.”

Steve picks up his pencil, but the atmosphere remains weirdly tender for the rest of the period. 


Saturday rolls around and Steve is waiting outside the apartment when a very shiny car pulls up to the curb.

The window rolls down and Tony grins at him. “Get in, loverboy.”

Steve gets in the backseat next to Tony.

The driver is looking at him in the rear-view mirror, so Steve waves after he clicks his seatbelt into place. “Hi. I’m Steve.”

The driver - old guy, kind face, very smartly dressed - blinks, as if he hadn’t expected an introduction. “Oh, hello. My name is Jarvis.”

When Steve settles back into his seat, which is more comfortable than any carseat he’s ever been in, Tony is looking between the two of them like - Steve doesn’t know.

“What,” Steve says.

Tony shakes his head. “Nothing.”

Should he have offered a handshake, Steve wonders? Before he can do anything about that, they pull smoothly out into the street.


Hammer’s house is the same as it was two years back when Steve had risked actually going to one of these: uncomfortably big and gaudy, with statues all around the entrance, the house spilling over with drunk teenagers.

He winces at it from the car. Suddenly he regrets coming, but Tony drove him here, he can’t just get back into the car and leave. 

“Thanks,” he says to the driver, who gives him a prim smile with more warmth in it than Steve expects.

“Have a good time,” Jarvis says to them, but more to Tony. “But not  too  much of a good time.”

Tony spreads out his arms. “When have I ever done that?”

Jarvis makes a noise in the back of his throat that sounds a lot like a rebuttal, then says, “Call me when you want to go home.”

“We can just-”

“Anytime of the night. I will be waiting for it.”

Tony sighs, but it’s fond. “We’ll put you out of your misery before - what, 3am?”

“I want to be at home and  asleep  by 3,” Steve says.

Tony makes a face at him. “2, then.”

“I look forward to it,” Jarvis says, and then drives off in the same smooth fashion he’d done the whole way here.

As they turn to head down the driveway, Steve asks, “Have you guys known each other long?”

“Hm?” Tony looks over the flashing lights coming from the Hammer house. “Sure. Jarvis has been in the family - employed by us, you know what I mean - since before I was born.”

Huh. This guy’s seen Tony grow up, then. No wonder he’s so protective.

“He seems kind,” Steve says.

Tony does the smallest of double takes, then goes back to examining the house they’re walking up to.

“He is,” Tony says. 

It’s long since gotten dark out, but the Hammer house has so many lights up the driveway and around the house that it barely matters. One time, Steve has heard, they got a floodlight, but there are mercifully no floodlights tonight. Just the usual array of lights that were probably put up by workers, because Hammer is the kind of guy who doesn’t like to do his own work. He pays someone to do his homework for him.

“You don’t go to these things a lot, huh,” Tony asks as they close in on the front door.

“Nope,” Steve says. “I went once in freshman year. Someone puked on my shoes and I had an allergic reaction to a cake because I ate it and didn’t realize it had nuts in it.”

“You’re allergic to nuts?”

“Just peanuts.”

“Well,” Tony says. “We’ll keep an eye out.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Steve says, and then they’re pushing in through the open door and into the party.



The night starts out pretty much the same as it did in freshman year: Steve stands around while people dance, drinks some beer that he couldn’t afford otherwise, gets a vague buzz on that still isn’t enough to make him dance. Mostly he talks to his friends as they flit in and out of the rooms - Bucky and Natasha find him pretty fast, thanks to Snapchat, and Tony, surprisingly, keeps hanging around. 

“Can’t abandon my boyfriend,” Tony says at some point, and Steve has had enough beers that he lets himself imagine it: things would still be the same, they’d still be standing close together and touching more than necessary, but there would be a weight behind it. It’d be  real .

He’s moping about this when Tony goes off in search of more beer, and Bucky and Natasha call him over to the couch they’re sitting on. The couch definitely wasn’t there at the start of the night, but Steve is glad it’s here now.

“Quit looking sad,” Bucky says, slinging an arm over Steve’s shoulder when Steve squishes into the small space left behind on the couch. “Your boyfriend’s gonna notice and ask why you’re all frowny-face.”

Very  frowny face,” Natasha says, leaning over Bucky to take his chin in her hand and squeeze. Steve lets her do it for three squeezes, then bats her hand away.

“I’m not frowny face. I mean I’m not - I’m just-”

“All longing,” Natasha says, dropping her head onto Bucky’s shoulder.

All longing . Yeah, that’s about it.

“I think he’s longing, too,” Natasha continues. “If I’m reading him right. Which I always am. Reading people right.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Bucky pats her knee. “You’re a secretly trained government agent. Or a. I don’t know, who else gets training into reading people?”

“There are Youtube videos on it.”

Bucky clicks his fingers. “Youtube-trained… secret… no.”

“I’m gonna go pee,” Steve announces. He’s not drunk enough for this conversation to be interesting.

He extracts himself from the couch - Bucky tries pushing his back to help him, which is more hindering than helpful, but Steve nods at him in thanks anyway - and goes off in search of a bathroom. It’s now late enough in the night that he has to push past people instead of asking them to please move, because people aren’t listening and also when he nudges them, most of them move, unconcerned, out of the way without checking who or what Steve is.

It’s a big house, and after opening six doors and not finding a bathroom, Steve steps outside and pees in a bush. It’s fine, he reasons. It’s a party. No one’s gonna call his Ma and tell her that her only son was found peeing in public, on someone’s  property , in their  garden . It’s better than him getting in trouble for fighting, but still -

“Sorry, Ma,” Steve says, as he’s zipping up.

When he turns around, he almost bumps into someone.

“Sorry,” he says again, and then it registers who he’s apologizing to.

Ty smiles tightly down at him, because he’s the kind of guy who uses his height to intimidate people. Not overtly - just enough to make it clear who’s winning in this big dick contest.

Ty complicates this a bit by saying, “I have to say, that was a shock.”


Ty nods downwards. “You got a nice dick there, Steve. Surprisingly big for someone of your frame. Or most guys’ frames.  Shit .”

Steve has no fucking idea what  anyone  should say to that.  Thank you  feels wrong, so he just nods. Is he being flirted with? Please don’t let Ty be flirting with him.

“Okay,” Steve says finally. He tries to sidestep him, but Ty moves out of the way.

If this is flirting, Steve doesn’t like this version.

“You wanna move,” he asks.

Ty shakes his head. “Not really, Steve.”

Steve fights the urge to roll his eyes. “Oookay. Look, just move and you can insult me at school on Monday, alright?”

He steps to the left. Ty moves in front of him again.

Steve’s fists bunch. “Look,” he says again, slower this time.

“You’re a scrapper,” Ty says. “Right? You used to fight a lot.”

“I did,” Steve says. “I’m not gonna fight you, though.”



“Why not?”

Steve eyes him. “You done anything worth fighting over?”

Ty blows out a long breath and examines his expensive shoes, which are as shiny as Tony’s car. “Other than Tony?”

Steve laughs. “What, I should fight you because Tony used to date you? He’s allowed to have dated other people before me.”

This doesn’t sit well with Ty, who actually seems to be getting frustrated that Steve isn’t taking the bait.

“I guess it’s just the dick, then,” he says. “I always wondered why the fuck he was dating you. You have nothing. You  are  nothing. Except a nice dick, apparently. Goes to show just how shallow Tony is. The two of you walking around the halls all Romeo and Juliet, as if Tony really  likes  you, when in reality it’s just Tony panting over your dick. Sad.”

Steve is suddenly very glad he’s not drunker than this. A few more beers and that would’ve definitely earned Ty a punch. As it is, Steve swallows the surge of anger that had risen in his stomach and says, “Wow, Ty. That’s more explicit than you ever get. Unless you get people alone a lot and then intimidate them the way you really want to, which wouldn’t surprise me. You seem like that kind of coward.”

With that, he steps past Ty. Ty tries to get in his way again, but Steve shoulders him hard enough to send him back a step, helped along by the alcohol Steve catches on Ty’s breath as he pushes past him.

Ty says something behind him, but Steve’s too busy heading away.

When Steve finds the couch again - which takes a bit of searching, because, again, it’s a big house - Tony is squeezed in next to Bucky and Natasha, zoning out until he spots Steve.

Tony waves, breaking out into a grin. Steve waves back, with a sense of relief he doesn’t know how to pin down, and heads over.

“Did you get lost finding your zipper,” Bucky asks as Steve perches on the couch’s arm.

“Something like that,” Steve says. 

Bucky starts to say something else, but then he gets hit in the face with a frisbee. This somehow leads to Bucky and Natasha surging up and joining an impromptu frisbee match, with stakes and a goal of hitting the basketball net outside the house. Steve and Tony are invited - or, they’re not being deliberately excluded - but both of them stay on the couch, watching in bewilderment as the new frisbee gang charges outside.

“Someone’s gonna have to call an ambulance later,” Steve says.

“100%,” Tony says. He slides over to the next couch cushion, says, “Come on.”

Steve drops down next to him. “A whole cushion to myself. Wow.”

“I know. We truly are living in a golden age,” Tony says. He takes a long drag from his glass and Steve watches his throat bob. Tony’s been drinking a  lot  tonight, but as far as Steve knows, this is normal, as well as Tony not seeming that drunk despite having been drinking hard liquor while everyone else has stuck to beer.

“Ran into Ty just now,” Steve says.

Tony chokes, then swallows his mouthful, eyes watering. “Shit. Did he try anything?”

Steve goes for it. “He said I had a nice dick.”

“He  what ?”

“He saw me peeing.”

Tony stares at him, incredulous.

“It was  really  weird,” Steve says. “Also, the most depressing compliment I’ve ever gotten. The first time someone sees my dick, says it’s nice, and it’s  Tiberius Stone .”

“Why-” Tony can’t seem to make this compute. “ Why-

“Oh, he turned it into an insult.”

“There we go,” Tony says, and flops back against the couch. “God.”

Steve watches him take another sip of - vodka, he thinks. Straight vodka, not mixed with anything. Tony barley grimaces when he sips, which probably isn’t a great sign.

Steve keeps it behind his teeth, and then he doesn’t: “Why did you  date  him?”

Tony flinches. It’s almost nonexistant, but it’s there, kept in his shoulders.

“You don’t have to,” Steve starts, but Tony’s already talking softly.

“He was nice,” he says. He pulls a face. “I mean - I knew he wasn’t NICE, but - he could make me believe he was nice when he was with me.”


“I know.” Tony makes a disgusted noise, takes another drink - a gulp this time, rather than a sip. “It was dumb.  I  was dumb. I just - he made me feel like I was. Uh.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, equally quiet. He keeps watching Tony as he drinks, keeps his eyes lowered, something brewing behind them.

“You deserve better,” Steve says. 

Tony makes another noise, not disgusted this time, but not much of anything else, either. He looks over at Steve and, hesitant, like he’s not sure it’ll be welcomed, he raises a hand and touches Steve’s cheek.

Steve’s breath catches in his throat. Tony starts to lean in and Steve wants to badly to let it happen, but they’re at a party and there are a few people around even if they aren’t paying any attention, and there’s music playing muffled through the walls and Steve is a little drunk, Tony’s probably a  lot  drunk -

“Did we say no kissing in the contract,” Steve asks, strained.

Tony stops a breath away from his mouth. “Uhhhh. Do you want there to be no kissing?”

“I didn’t - say that,” Steve says. “It’s just, I’ve never. I’ve never, uh.”

Tony’s eyes widen. “You - huh. Okay, do you-”

He sits up, looks around the room, then back at Steve. “We could find somewhere quieter?”

Steve nods gratefully. Tony blinks at him for long enough that Steve starts to ask if something’s wrong, but then Tony gets up and holds out a hand. Steve takes it and follows.

The first room has a room full of cheerleaders smoking weed, the second has two girls who are drunk and crying on each other, but the third room is empty. It’s also a laundry. 

Romantic , Steve thinks. Then he feels weird for thinking it, even sarcastically - this isn’t romantic, this is just. Him having his first kiss with a maybe-friend who he’s pretending to date.

“You good,” Tony asks when they’re facing each other.

Steve nods. His palms are sweating. He wipes his hands on his jeans. 

“Okay,” Tony says. It comes out strangely loud - there’s noise going on outside, but the cool bubble of the laundry feels like a new place. All the noises outside are muffled, they could be somewhere else altogether. 

Tony says, “So, I’ll just-”

“Yeah,” Steve says. 

Tony’s face is very close. Steve could count his eyelashes if there was more light, but there isn’t. There’s some light coming in from the window, maybe from the moon but probably not, and all Steve can see is shadow and vague highlights: the shape of Tony’s face, his shoulders, his hand coming up to touch Steve’s arm.

“Just gonna,” Tony says, and Steve says  yeah  again, and wonders if he should try to store this away in his memory. People remember their first kisses really well, right? Or they should. Steve catalogues it for later: the warmth of Tony’s hands on his arms, the feel of Tony’s breath on his face, Tony backlit as he leans in, and then -

Their lips touch, first gently, and at first it’s not much of anything. It’s a mouth against Steve’s mouth, like a hand against his hand, and Tony tastes like vodka, and there are no fireworks at all. Steve is vaguely disappointed, and a little panicked because  oh god kissing is happening,  but then the press gets a little firmer and Steve responds in kind and that’s - well, that’s. Something.

‘S nice,  Steve thinks, but the thought it distant. Parts of his brain are switching off all at once, nerves narrowing down to Tony’s mouth on his, moving gently, then tilting a little more, mouth opening, coaxing against Steve’s. Oh. 

Tongue , Steve thinks, and that’s even more distant. It still tastes like vodka, but Steve notices it less now. There are barely-there noises that he registers as the slick sounds of kissing, sounds that are only there in a few movies. Do they edit it out otherwise, like how voice actors’ breaths are edited out of their voice acting -

The world narrows and narrows. 

There are still sounds, but Steve doesn’t notice them. His tunnel vision is all entwined in his body: Tony’s face in his hands. The rasp of his stubble against his fingers, his lips. Tony’s hands on his shoulders now, pulling him closer. Their bodies press together in a line, continue to press, and it’s only when Tony says  oof  that Steve realizes he’s backed him into a washing machine.

“Sorry,” Steve says, breathless.

Tony’s smiling. “It’s fine,” he says, and then reaches up to lock his hands around the back of Steve’s head to pull him back in again. Tony’s hands in his hair is a pleasant tingle and Steve feels rather than hears himself make a noise against Tony’s mouth.

Kissing is nice. Making out - it feels like this is what they’re doing now, what with all the touching - making out is  nice . Steve used to watch the TV and wonder how people didn’t get bored by it, all the kissing, but now he gets it. This is electric. It’s at the very least static electricity.

The static burns out when the door opens and two people spill in, the two of them interlocked in a way Steve and Tony  definitely  haven’t got up to yet. 

“Whoa, okay,” Tony says, averting his eyes. Steve does the same. His skin is humming. 

The couple apologize, but they take a while to get enough coordination to get themselves out the door and close it behind them.

The noise is back now. There’s a bass beat thumping through the house.

“Um,” Steve says. 

“Yep,” Tony says. 

Steve doesn’t move. Surely there’s a polite way to say  let’s get back to kissing now please,  but somehow it doesn’t feel like the moment. Tony won’t meet Steve’s eyes.

“You okay,” Steve asks.

That gets him. Tony’s eyebrows pull inwards. “Feel like I should be asking you that. How was - I mean, do you - dewdrop?”

That takes a second to click. “No dewdrop - it was good,” Steve says. He clears his throat. His voice is a lot hoarser than it was a few minutes ago. “‘S nice.”

“Nice,” Tony repeats under his breath. “Cool. Nice is - good. Nice is nice. Okay!”

He claps, and the sound joins the bass for a shattering moment that almost makes Steve jump. He’s still a little dazed.

“So, that’s - done,” Tony says. “Uh. Feel free to do that in public. You’re allowed.”

“Yeah, you-” Steve swallows. “You too. Are allowed.”

“Makes it more convincing,” Tony mutters, seemingly to himself. He rubs his hands together distractedly.

“Uh-huh,” Steve says. He’s scuffing his feet. It’s a habit his Ma scolded him out of as a kid, but apparently he’s just been repressing the feet-scuffing and it’s been waiting to resurface. Who knew?

Tony’s opening his mouth to say something when Steve scuffs a little too hard and a shoe catches on something sharp and rips hard enough that it impales the shoe and slices into Steve’s foot.

“SHIT,” Steve yells, because foot cuts  hurt , okay.

Tony jolts. “What! What happ-”

Steve hops backwards and mostly controls his fall onto his ass. 

“Cut my foot,” Steve says. “Could you find a light-” 

“Yeah, sure-” Tony fumbles at the wall.

Steve pulls his foot towards him, then yanks his shoe off, then his sock. At the wall, Tony makes a noise of triumph and a second later the room is bathed in light.

Both of them blink in it for a moment, and then their gazes zero in on Steve’s foot. There’s blood, but not a lot of it - it’s not half as bad as Steve had thought it had been at that first burst of pain.

“What the hell did  that ,” Tony asks.

“I don’t know!” Steve looks around where he’d been standing. “Do rich people just keep knives lying around the laundry rooms-”

“Not as a rule,” Tony says. He squats down next to Steve’s foot. “There’s probably a first aid kit if we hunt around.”

Steve picks up his shoe and puts a finger through the new hole. It’s a lot bigger than the gash in his foot, which is both lucky and unlucky.

“Guess I’m gonna be getting a soggy foot whenever it rains for a while,” Steve says.

“What?” Tony frowns. “Just buy new shoes.”

Steve looks at him long enough for him to get it.

“Right,” Tony says. “Sorry-”

“It’s fine,” Steve says. “It’s not - a-HA!”

Tony turns to look where Steve’s pointing. Just under the laundry machine is a jagged piece of metal, only accessible if you stick your foot a little under the machine, which Steve - yeah, okay, Steve had been doing. There’s a sliver of blood on the end of the metal point.

Tony winces as Steve touches it. “Come on, let’s get you a bandage.”

Steve twists his foot to get a better angle on it. “I think it’ll be okay with a band-aid.”

“What, no it won’t, there’s blood on the  floor . A band-aid’s not gonna cover all of it.”

“Maybe if we get a big band-aid-”

“There will be bandages somewhere!”

“I don’t wanna be a bother-”

“No one cares, Steve! If we raid the bathroom cabinet and leave it bare, no one will care. Come on.”

Steve takes Tony’s hand and is hauled up. Tony’s still eyeing his foot worriedly.

“Can you stand-”

“Yes! Yes, it’s not that bad.”

Tony kicks lightly at the sharp bit under the washing machine. “You should sue.”

“What is with you and sueing people,” Steve asks. “I’m not gonna sue Hammer for - for me sticking my foot somewhere it shouldn’t have been. That wouldn’t work in court anyway. Let’s go find a plaster.”


“Two plasters, then,” Steve says. It’s only as he’s leaving the laundry room that he looks back and remembers it all over again - he just had his first kiss. He and Tony kissed. It was really nice.

His foot throbs and Steve winces. First thing’s first. He can stress out over kissing later.


The rest of the night is pretty uneventful. Steve doesn’t run into Ty again, no one pukes on him, they find a bandage (which is, admittedly, better than band aids would’ve been) in a bathroom and then they call Jarvis to come pick them up.

They also give Bucky and Natasha a ride, because by this point both of them are drunk enough to start getting frisbee injuries from pulling increasingly risky moves. Steve stops Bucky as he’s about to jump off a scaffold and drags him to Tony’s car.

“J, we’re dropping these guys home,” Tony tells Jarvis as he slides into the backseat. 

Jarvis twists to look at them all: Bucky is sprawling, Natasha is sitting straight but her gaze is very hazy, Steve is holding his ripped, bloody shoe in his hand and Tony is looking as innocent as possible.

“Let me know where I should go,” is all Jarvis says.

Steve gets the feeling this is a run-of-the-mill thing in his job.

The next morning, Steve wakes up with a hangover so mild he thinks he imagines it. It gains traction the more time he spends awake, but then he chugs a few glasses of water and it subsides. He really doesn’t get how people can drink so much that they wake up with destructive hangovers - he’s done that one time and quickly decided that once was enough.

This instantly makes him think of Tony, who Steve knows for a fact has had awful hangovers, and still gets them frequently. Obviously Tony thinks that drinking is worth the mornings after.

Steve thinks about texting him, asking if he’s okay, but he doesn’t know if Tony will appreciate it.

He puts the thought out of his mind and is settling down for a relaxing day in the lounge with his Ma, who has Sunday off, when there’s a knock at the door.

He looks over at his Ma, who shrugs.

Steve gets up and opens the door.

It’s Tony. He’s a little rough around the edges in a way that confirms that his hangover’s hitting him a lot harder than Steve’s. He’s holding a pair of new shoes.

“Hi?” Steve says. He steps outside, onto the stairs.

“Hey,” Tony says. He holds out the shoes.

Steve takes them out of instinct. They’re good shoes, better than anything he can afford. They look like they could last him until the end of college.

“What are these,” Steve says.

“Shoes,” Tony says, like  duh . “You ripped yours, remember?”

“I remember,” Steve says. “I wasn’t that drunk. You got me shoes?”

“Yeah.” Tony pockets his hands. 

Steve waits. When Tony doesn’t say anything else, Steve sighs.

“Tony, I can’t take these.”

“Why not?”

“You brought me  shoes ,” Steve says. He holds them out to Tony. “I can’t - they’re shoes. Shoes are expensive.  These  shoes look  really  expensive.”

“...Okay,” Tony says. He still doesn’t take the shoes back. “So?”

So ,” Steve says. He glances behind him, closes the door a bit more with his foot. “I can’t take them.”

“Because they’re expensive?”


Tony folds his arms like that’ll stop Steve from trying to give him the shoes back. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Steve stares at him. 

“They’re a gift,” Tony says. “You don’t have to pay me back, they’re just - you needed new shoes, so I got you them!”

“I don’t need new shoes,” Steve insists. He shoves the new ones at Tony, who steps back.

“You tore your old ones.”

“Yeah, but they still work.”

“There’s a big fucking  hole  in one of them!”

“But the rest of them are intact! I’ll just tape up the hole-”

“Water’s gonna get in when it rains!”

“I’ll live with it, then!” Steve realizes he’s yelling when Tony’s face tightens. He lowers his voice. “Look, I - I appreciate it. It’s a nice thing you tried to do. But this is too much-”

 At  too much , Tony’s jaw locks. For a moment his smooths out into something that reminds Steve of that one time someone called Rhodey the n-word and Tony had made the guy cry with two sentences.

That face only lasts a second, though, and then his face twitches back to normal.

“What is the  point ,” Tony hisses, “Of being, of being  anything  with me if-”

He falters. Runs a hand through his hair, at which point Steve has a flash of memory of Tony running his hand through Steve’s hair.

“I could literally buy you a hundred of these shoes, every day, for the rest of our lives, and it wouldn’t make a dent on me. Okay? This isn’t - I just want - just  take the shoes , Steve.”

They glare at each other. A hundred things surge up in Steve -  you can’t just fix everything with money  and clear, righteous anger and sheer embarrassment, a lifetime of never having enough, of wearing the same shoes until they get thin enough that it’s barely worth wearing them anymore, and then wearing them another six months after that. Wearing things until they literally fall apart, then fixing them up, then wearing them until they were only good for scraps. Keeping the scraps, every time.

Steve can feel the blood hot in his cheeks. His cut foot throbs in time with his heartbeat. 

“Look,” he says, dangerously low. He’s not entirely sure what he’s going to say, and he’s almost grateful when the door open and his Ma appears in the doorway.

Tony crosses his arms tighter. “Sarah. Hi.”

“Hi,” she says. Her gaze flickers over them both - their tight, closed-off postures, Steve holding the shoes like he wants them out of his hands. “How’re things?”

“Good,” Tony says. “Uh. How are things with you?”

“Also good,” she says. She meets Steve’s eyes, then says, “I was just about to make breakfast, how about you two boys come in and help out?”

Damn it, Ma .

Their joint refusals get waved down. “Come on, it won’t take long and I’m making eggs on toast. Everyone loves a good old eggs on toast. In you come.”

She leaves the door open as she walks further into the apartment.

Steve and Tony trade a look.

“I’m still not taking the shoes,” Steve says, but he steps back to allow Tony to head inside before following him in. He puts the shoes on the couch - they haven’t been worn yet, so it’s fine - and goes into the kitchen, where Sarah hands him the egg carton and tells him to crack six of them into a bowl.

Tony follows dutifully, looking more uncomfortable than Steve has seen him. 

“You’re on toast duty,” Sarah says.

Tony nods. “Where’s the-”

“Toast duty hasn’t started yet.”

“Oh. Well, let me know when it starts.”

Steve snorts. When Tony looks over, Steve busies himself with getting a bowl out of the cupboard and cracking the eggs. Sarah clicks on the stove and then pauses, turning to Tony.
“Actually, you can also be on chopping duty.”

“Done,” Tony says. “What do I chop?”

Sarah hands him a capsicum and an onion, then gives Tony a knife, and when Steve finishes cracking eggs he watches Tony chop vegetables next to his Ma, who is chopping mushrooms, and realizes that Tony probably hasn’t had to cook anything in his life. He holds a knife like it might leap up and bite him. When he dumps his veggies into the eggs mixture, Tony’s vegetables are wildly uneven next to Sarah’s mushrooms.

Steve probably shouldn’t find it endearing, but he does. He’d be concerned, but this has been pretty par for the course, Tony-wise.


Breakfast is quiet, even if it isn’t the comforting kind that Steve usually gets on Ma’s days off. This quiet is more tense, since Steve can’t make himself forget Tony’s there, and the shoes are still on the couch, and his Ma is sitting there like all of this is totally normal while the other two at the table squirm.

“How was the party,” Sarah asks. “You two went together, right?”

“Yep,” Tony says. “Uh. It was good.”

“Good,” Steve agrees through a mouthful of eggs. He keeps his eyes on his plate. Sarah definitely wants to ask more, so Steve gives her the most subtle pleading look he can manage.

It doesn’t work.

“So what are the shoes about,” she asks, nodding at the couch where they’re sitting, shiny and - and - god, probably worth more than the couch, now that Steve thinks about it.

“Tony, uh, got me new ones,” Steve says. “After I cut my shoe open last night.”

Sarah pauses in mid-chew for a second. She swallows. “Huh. That’s - nice of him,” she says slowly, and Steve is gratified to hear that she’s also uncomfortable about it. Rogers’ don’t take charity.

“Thank you, Tony,” Sarah says, cutting into her toast. 

“It’s no problem,” Tony says quietly, down at his food. He’s eating very fast but very neatly, like he wants to get out of here as soon as he can but he won’t make a mess to do it. “Least I can do.”

“Least you can do,” Sarah repeats. “Why, what did Steve do for you?”

Tony pauses. His knife scrapes loudly on his next cut, and he winces. “Um. He didn’t do - I mean. He’s my friend, I wanted to help him out.”

Sarah takes a breath like she’s about to say something, then holds it for a few seconds before she says, “Well. It’s a very generous offer.”

“Not really,” Tony mutters. 

Silence falls over the table.

“How badly is your shoe torn,” Sarah asks.

“Not that bad.”

“Show me?”

Steve looks at her, but she doesn’t relent. He pushes his chair out and goes to his room, comes back with his torn shoe. He hands it to her and she turns it around in her hands. She pushes her fingers through the hole and makes a face.

“We can tape it up,” Steve tries.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yep. We can do that.”

“Just TAKE THE SHOES,” Tony bursts out.

They both look at him.

“Okay, just-” Tony gets up. The chair scrapes. “Sorry, I’m not - this was a great breakfast and I’m sorry for being rude, but Steve, you’re a great guy and the least you deserve are shoes that keep the fucking  rain  out, so I’m just gonna go and I’m leaving the shoes and I’m not taking them back, so either you throw them out, which is a waste, or you give them away, which is  also  a waste, or you sell them and get new shoes with that money, which doesn’t make any sense because you already have shoes here, so how about you just-”

He gestures hard at Steve, then at the shoes. Then he turns around and strides for the door, only pausing long enough to say, “Thank you for breakfast, it was great,” to Sarah, and “I’ll see you at school,  use  the shoes,” at Steve, before shutting the door behind him.

Steve and Sarah sit there and listen to him clatter down the metal steps.

“Huh,” Sarah says. She wiggles her fingers that are still poking through the hole in the shoe. “Guess you have a new pair of shoes, Stevie.”

Steve stares. “We can’t  keep  them!”

“Apparently we have to,” Sarah says. “Unless you want to chase Tony down.”

“I can give them back at school-”

“Steve,” Sarah says. “I think we’re beaten. He gave you a gift - okay, an  inappropriate  gift - but he seems pretty determined to keep your feet dry. I say we let him.”

Steve keeps staring. When all she does is put the shoe down and keep eating her eggs, he says, “Who are you and what’d you do with Ma?”

“She’s locked in the bathroom,” Sarah says. “Finish your breakfast.”

Steve sits down. After a while, he picks up his fork.

“So are you two dating yet,” Sarah asks, and Steve is glad he doesn’t have egg in his mouth, because he would’ve choked.

“What? No.”

“Alright,” Sarah says. “Let me know if that changes.”

Steve stews in guilt for the rest of the day.

Monday is tense, to say the least. Tony and Steve still sit next to each other at lunch, still hold hands, but they don’t talk except for polite small talk. Even when Tony notices that Steve’s wearing the new shoes, there’s a second where Tony seems like he’s about to say something, but then he lets it go on a breath.

Steve almost wishes he would bring it up. He’s not happy about wearing the shoes, and only wears them because there’s supposed to be a downpour today - that, and this morning his Ma caught him trying to leave in his torn shoes and argued him out of it.

He’s grudgingly thankful that she did when he walks out of school at the end of the day into rain so heavy it’s hard to see far ahead. He sighs and starts for the bus stop, which is a few blocks away. He’s soaked after one.

He’s barely made it halfway into the second when a car pulls up beside him. Steve ignores it, but then a voice is yelling his name and Steve looks to see Tony waving at him from -

He laughs. “You brought the limo today. Great.”

Tony opens the door. “Get in!”

“I’m not getting in, Tony-”

“You’re drenched, come on-”

“I  know  I’m drenched, that’s why I can’t get in, I’ll ruin-”

“Get in get in get in get  in ,” Tony chants, and Steve groans into the rain and then heads for the limo. Tony’s just finished shuffling down into the next seat when Steve climbs in, shutting the door behind him and grimacing at how much he’s dripping.

“Hi, Jarvis,” he says when he notices the driver.

“Hello,” Jarvis replies, looking much happier to see a teenager dripping onto the upholstery than Steve would expect. “To your home, Sir, or are you coming over to Master Tony’s?”

“He’s coming over,” Tony says.

Steve looks at him. Tony shrugs.

“There could be a pop quiz in algebra,” he says. “Gotta be prepared, Rogers.”

At this point Steve’s grades have improved enough that he’d probably get by without help, but he sits back and lets this happen. He waits for Tony to say something about the shoes - his feet are toasty dry even with the rain, damn it - but Tony stays quiet the whole ride up to Tony’s apartment.

It’s a penthouse apartment, because of  course  it is. Steve feels out of place just stepping on the carpet, which he all but sinks into. This carpet belongs in a five star hotel suite, not an apartment where people  live .

“How many bedrooms does this place have,” Steve says as he looks around. One hall alone has at least five rooms attached to it, and there are more halls than that.

“Seven,” Tony says. 

Why ?”

“Don’t know. Sleep in one every day of the week?”

“How many people even live here?”

“Mostly just me,” Tony says after a moment. “Mom’s around for the next few months, probably.”

Before Steve can digest that, Tony is heading off down a hall, telling Steve he’ll give him the tour. Steve follows, doing his best not to touch anything.

There are indeed seven bedrooms, though only two look very lived in. One of them is Tony’s parents bedroom, which Steve assumes has his mother in it, and the other is Tony’s bedroom - or, his  main  bedroom. Tony introduces one of the bedrooms as “my second bedroom,” and then next to it pushes open a door that makes more sense.

“And my main one,” Tony says.

It’s overflowing with stuff. Where the second bedroom was bare, this room had blueprints over the walls and a star map on the ceiling; desks were scattered with sheets of complicated equations and half-finished experiments and what look like gears from a car. Or maybe not from a car. Steve doesn’t know much about gears, but Tony has definitely been making something in this room.

“Wow,” Steve says. He does a full turn around the room, taking it all in. “Tony, this is amazing.”

Tony shrugs stiffly. “It does the job.”

“You did all this?” Steve gestures at the room - all the things he’s making, the blueprints and constellations. 

“Yeah,” Tony says. He won’t meet Steve’s eyes. 

Steve hovers over a blueprint on Tony’s desk. He has no idea what the hell it’s for - some kind of motor? - but it looks complex, and Tony’s drawn little notes all over it. Possible improvements, it looks like. 

“So is this, like - your workshop,” Steve says. “And the other room you sleep in?”

Tony snorts. “No, the other room I have sex in.”

“Th-” Steve feels his cheeks burn. “ What ?”

Tony grins, hopping onto his bed, which is rumpled and covered in scribbled-in textbooks. “It’s a system I started a few years back. Only time I brought someone in here, they stole something that turned out to be pretty important info and my Dad got pissed about it. So when I have someone over I’m going to sleep with, I use the other bedroom.”

Steve puts his face in his hands. “You have a  sex room .”


“That’s ridiculous,” Steve says weakly. He drops his hands. “Tony, what even-”

They both look back at the door when there’s a noise that sounds a lot like the front door opening. Before it can close, there are sounds of an argument: a man and a woman, both trying to keep quiet, but even with the quiet, Steve can pick up that it’s a heated argument.

Tony bolts up from the bed.

“Uhhhh,” he says. He shoots Steve a smile that doesn’t fool Steve an inch, then says, “Stay there.”

Steve does. Tony leaves and soon his voice joins the argument with a breezy, “Dad, I didn’t know we were going to get graced with your presence.”

Don’t  talk to me like that,” Mr. Stark barks back, and Steve’s fists curl reflexively.

It doesn’t get better from there. Every time Tony tries to speak up his Dad shouts him down, and when the mother tries to interject, she gets shouted down, too. Eventually Tony mentions that he has someone over and Mr. Stark’s voice starts getting closer and Tony’s increasingly worried voice follows.

Steve tries to make himself look as proper as possible - it’s a lost battle, he’s still drenched and in crappy clothes, minus the shoes - and then Mr. Stark storms down the hall, going right past Tony’s room and then halting, coming back, staring at Steve.

Tony appears at his side not long after.

“Hello, Sir,” Steve starts.

“He’s in your room,” Mr. Stark says lowly, obviously not at Steve.

“Yeah, I let him in,” Tony says. “Dad, it’s  fine-

“It’s fine,” Mr. Stark repeats, in a loud, mocking voice. “Like it was fine with Sunset? Remind me again, which important fucking documents did she steal away with? Which documents that might have endangered the existence of the Stark company? Was that  fine , too?”

Tony flounders. “That was - Steve won’t do that, Dad. I trust him.”

“Oh, you  trust  him.” Mr. Stark pinches the bridge of his nose. For a second, the way he stands is so reminiscent of Tony it’s startling, but the he shifts and it’s gone. “Tony, we’ve had this conversation. Your trust is worth as much as dogshit. Now, you can have people over, but if you’re going to keep sensitive information in your room, you can’t let them in. You keep your little boyfriend in your other bedroom, you do the things you do, and then he  leaves . Alright?”

Tony blinks rapidly. His eyes are very shiny.

“Yes, Dad,” he says, in a tone that Steve hasn’t heard before and doesn’t care to hear again.

“Get him out of here,” Mr. Stark says, and Tony nods jerkily.

Steve moves before Tony can tell him to. 

“Check him over first,” Mr. Stark adds as Steve passes him.

Steve and Tony both stare at him, then at each other.

“I’m sorry,” Tony starts, but Steve shakes his head. 

“It’s fine,” he says, and starts turning out his pockets. After Mr. Stark is satisfied - not that he shows it, he barely even looks at Steve as this happens - Steve heads back down the hall. He nods at Mrs. Stark, who is standing in the lounge with a glass of something amber. She nods back at him, smiles faintly, as if she was observing all of this from a long distance.

“Sorry,” Tony mumbles as he walks Steve to the door. “I’ll get Jarvis to drive you home-”

“Are you okay,” Steve says. He says it quiet, just in case.

Tony blinks. He has a bit of that same expression his Mom has, the looking-from-a-distance thing. “What?”

“Are you okay,” Steve repeats.

Tony’s eyes track over his face. “Yeah, I’m fine. You’re the one who just had to show my Dad your phone didn’t have any secret recording technology.”

“It’s just, you seem-” Steve wavers. “Your Dad seems like a lot.”

Tony laughs. It’s hollow. “Yeah. He does, doesn’t he.”

He lifts his hand like he’s about to pat Steve on the shoulder, then drops it. “See you at school.”

“See you,” Steve says. He wants to say more, but can’t find anything that would work, so he lets Tony guide him out the door and gets in the limo with Jarvis, who politely avoids questions about Tony’s home life until Steve stops asking.



Steve tries to put it out of his head, but the worry lingers. Tony’s parents had seemed  so  - and Tony’s room had been so lively, so bright and interesting and in motion, and Tony has a  sex room  because people stole things from his actual room, and Jarvis might care more about Tony than either of his parents do, even if he seems at a loss at how to help his situation - 

He’s still thinking about it, unsuccessfully trying to shake it off, when his phone lights up with a text. He’s trying to sleep, so he ignores it, but then his phone vibrates with more texts, one after the other, so Steve picks it up.

Tony has sent him about eight, all saying that he’s at the door.

Steve blinks at them for a second. Another text comes in. 

Steve gets up and walks to the door.

“My Ma’s on a nightshift,” he says when he opens it. “You could’ve just knocked.”

“Well, didn’t know that,” Tony says.

Steve steps back to let him in, and Tony comes in and immediately flops down on the couch.

“Can I stay here tonight,” he asks.

“Of course,” Steve says. He closes the door and goes over to the couch, sitting a safe distance away. “Is, uh. Is everything alright at home?”

Tony’s head rolls sideways to look at him. He snorts, and Steve realizes that Tony is probably drunk. Then Tony shifts closer and Steve gets a whiff of his breath and realizes that Tony is  definitely  drunk, probably off his face.

“Things are normal at home,” Tony says.

“Okay,” Steve says. “That’s… not comforting. Was your Dad still angry when I left?”

Tony scrunches up his nose. “Dad’s always angry,” he says, and closes his eyes, letting his head drop onto Steve’s shoulder.

Steve nods. His chin grazes the top of Tony’s head.

“Does he, uh.”

“He doesn’t hit me,” Tony says, and it’s muffled in Steve’s shoulder. “Rhodey was worried too, at first. But he doesn’t hit me, so don’t worry about it.”

“Okay,” Steve says. He wonders if he should - rub Tony’s back, or something. His Ma used to do that for him when he got sick, though she stopped after he told her he was too old for it. 

Tony lifts his head off of Steve’s shoulder. 

“You’re a really good person, Steve.”

“Thanks,” Steve says.

Tony’s face is very close. Steve thinks back to the laundry room at the Hammer party, Tony’s face close and coming closer. It’s dark, so Steve still can’t count his eyelashes, there’s just the shape of his face.

Tony kisses him. Steve’s eyes close automatically. Tony tastes of vodka again, or maybe something else, but definitely alcohol. He’s a lot more handsy than he was in the laundry room, touching Steve’s chest and waist and heading downwards -

Steve makes a noise not unlike a yelp and pulls away. He’s not sure what to say at first, and then he opens his mouth and “Dewdrop” comes out.

Tony stares.

“The,” Steve says, and has to swallow. His mouth is suddenly dry despite having Tony’s tongue in it. “The failsafe? The contract said - uh, no groping.”

Recognition sparks in Tony’s eyes, and then something duller, harder, that makes Steve think back to when Tony was having to kick him out earlier today.

“Right,” Tony says. “Sorry. Forgot.”

He extracts himself from Steve and sits up straight. It looks like hard work, and then suddenly easier. “I should. Drink water.”

“You should,” Steve says. He starts getting up. “I’ll get you-”

“No, I’ll get it,” Tony says. He pushes himself up, wobbles a bit, but the walk to the kitchen is straight and unwavering. Steve watches Tony skull a glass of water, then another, then come back to the couch.

“I’m gonna need to pee a lot tonight,” Tony says, sitting down with his eyes closed.

Steve waits. Tony doesn’t move.

Steve shifts in place. “Look,” he says. “I’ll get you a blanket. You can take the couch-”

“I’m sorry,” Tony says. He still doesn’t open his eyes. 

Steve shakes his head. “No, it’s - it’s fine. You’re fine.”

Tony doesn’t seem convinced, but he lets Steve give him a blanket and thanks him for the glass of water (and mixing bowl, for puking) Steve places next to the couch.

“Give me a yell if you need anything,” Steve says.

Tony hums in answer and drags the blanket over him.

Steve stands in the doorway for a while, watching him breathe. Then he goes down the hall to bed.

When Steve goes into the lounge the next morning, Tony is gone. The blanket is folded on the couch and the mixing bowl is on top of it. It’s clean, thank god.

Steve is heading to pick up the bowl when the front door open. He jumps, but it’s just Ma, who comes in and sighs when she sees Steve.

“They finally let me go! I got a few naps under my belt, but I’m going to need to collapse in a big way...” She trails off. “Steve? Something wrong?”

“No,” Steve says, but it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Steve doesn’t think he’s ever answered  yes  to that question on the first try. “I - Tony stayed the night. On the couch,” he adds when Sarah’s face does a complicated series of expressions.

“He was having a hard time at home,” Steve says. “So he stayed over.”

He gestures at the blanket and the bowl.

Sarah hums, eyeing the bowl, but she doesn’t bring it up. “So, you’ll never guess what I heard at work last night.”


“Hope’s mom mentioned that my son was dating someone.”

Damn Hope. Steve can’t remember who Hope is, other than another student, but  damn  her.

“Did she,” Steve says, mostly to buy him time. 

“Yep,” Sarah says. She hangs her handbag up and shucks off her landyard. “Guess who she said you were dating?”

Steve’s throat is tight. He swallows anyway. 

“Ma,” he says. “It’s not - we just told people we were dating so Tony’s ex would quit bothering him. He’s giving me free tutoring in exchange. It’s not real.”

Sarah’s smile falters. “Oh. Huh. Well, that’s not… how I expected that to go.”

She leans against the wall, folds her arms. “How did this happen?”

“He just approached me one day and said he’d give me ten thousand bucks to pretend to date him. I turned it down,” he says when Sarah’s eyebrows hit her hairline. “And it just kinda - kept going.”

“Okay,” Sarah says slowly. “So you’re… not  actually  dating.”


“Just pretending to.”


“Could’ve fooled me.”

Steve laughs, but it breaks in the middle. When she approaches, he steps back. “I’m fine, it’s - it’s just a mess. I don’t think I’m gonna like how this all turns out, Ma.”

She approaches again, more cautious this time. “You never know. Could go well. I think he really likes you, too.”


Oh , yeah.”

“I don’t know.” Steve thinks about telling her about last night; Tony coming to him drunk, Tony kissing him, Tony’s hands on his waist - 

No. That’d just give her fodder, and as far as Steve’s concerned, Tony was just looking for comfort. It seems like the kind of thing he’d do, looking for comfort in strange places. He dated  Ty , for god’s sake.

Still - he did come to Steve for it.

“Maybe,” Steve allows.

Sarah smiles and it cracks into a yawn. “It’ll be fine, alright,” she says on the tail end of it. “Go to school. Maybe tell Tony how you feel, legitimize this whole dating thing.”

“No promises,” Steve tells her. 

Tony eats at a different lunch table, which is - fine.

It does mean that Steve has to explain what’s going on, which is less fine. He stumbles over all of it, the kissing at Hammer’s party, going over to Tony’s house, Tony coming onto him after asking to stay the night at Steve’s -

“Sounds like he’s got the  fake  part of fake boyfriend confused,” Bucky says.

Steve checks to make sure no one heard, then says, “It’s not - it’s probably not that.”

“Oh, no,” Sam says. “No, definitely not. Tony kissing you at a party. Tony coming to you when he’s at his lowest, asking for support. Tony trying to fool around with you. No, he’s not your boyfriend at  all .”

“That’s not-” Steve chews his tongue. “There are  circumstances . The party kissing was just - we were discussing if kissing was allowed, and I said I’d never been kissed, so he just. He just-”

“Kissed you,” Natasha says. “Which he’d totally do if he didn’t like you.”
Steve throws up his hands. “People kiss when they don’t like each other romantically!”

“They do,” Natasha says. “But this sounds like a different issue.”

“That you should talk to Tony about,” Sam adds.

Steve glares at them. He’s about to tell them that they’re no help when someone sideswipes his shoulder as they pass.

Steve turns around, half to check if the person’s okay, half expecting an apology. 

“Sorry,” Tiberius Stone says, looking perfectly okay and not at all sorry, even if he’s doing some mocking approximation of it. 

Steve bites his tongue. He glances over at Tony, who is watching with his fork halfway to his mouth. He puts the fork down, raises his eyebrows at Steve.

Steve shakes his head. Ty is walking away anyway.

“Uh,” Steve says, turning back to the others. “Where were we?”

Bucky’s giving the guy the evils as he retreats. “Has Ty been bothering you?”

“Nah,” Steve says. He eats a chip. “I mean, sure. Nothing bad, though.”

“Nothing bad like what,” Natasha says. Her face is the picture of innocence, but Steve knows her well enough by now to take that as a dangerous omen. 

“Nothing bad like  nothing bad, ” Steve says. “Nothing I can’t handle. So can we just-”

Sam makes a warning noise just as Ty knocks hard enough into Steve to send him sprawling onto the floor.

“Oh,  man ,” Ty says, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you!”

Steve grits his teeth. He’d banged his elbow on the way down and it’s throbbing with his foot. He doesn’t waste any time lying there, pushing himself up.
“I’m fine,” he says to Sam, who’s gotten out of his chair to help. Sam drops his hand but doesn’t step away.

Steve straightens. Ty hasn’t left this time, instead he’s standing there like he’s waiting for something. Steve so badly wants to give it to him.

“That wasn’t your style,” Steve says. The pain’s fading, but it gives his voice an edge.

Ty smiles. It’s just as slimy as every fucking smile Steve’s seen out of the guy before now, and he’s so,  so  ready for whatever’s about to happen, right until Tony gets through the slow-growing crowd and comes to stand next to Steve.

“Hi,” he says, flashing his own smile, not slimy but not quite trustworthy, either. “What’s going on?

“Nothing,” Ty says.

Steve frowns. “You sure? I thought you were going to compliment my dick again.”

From the way Ty blinks, Steve guesses he did a  lot  of drinking that night. 

Ty’s smile turns dismissive. He laughs. “What?”

“You don’t remember?” Steve folds his arms across his chest. “It was very weird.”

Ty laughs, louder this time. Steve watches the crowd, which is patchy as people slow and then just stand there, waiting. Ty has never gotten into a fistfight, but Steve used to be notorious for them, and there’s not a student here that doesn’t want to see Ty get punched.

“Your boyfriend isn’t a great liar, Tony.”

Tony’s still got that brittle smile on. “Then he’s a step up from my last one. Ty, how about you sit down?”

“I don’t think I will,” Ty says, all moderated calm. Steve wants to shake it out of him.

“Look,” Steve says. “Either punch me or say whatever you’re going to say. Let’s just get this over with.”

Ty keeps looking at him like he’s the one being ridiculous. His shoulders shift as he glances around at the gathering crowd, then twitch, like a cornered animal. But then he’s stepping forwards and Steve braces.

“I am going,” Ty says, all bared teeth as he lowers his voice to a hiss, “to get Tony back. You just watch.”

Jesus. This fucking guy.

Steve doesn’t punch him. Yet. He’s decided he’s probably going to.

“Hasn’t worked so far,” he says. “Actually, I think he’s pretty repulsed by you.”

Ty rears back to laugh. His posture, always so light and easy, is caged tight.

Repulsed ,” he repeats.


Ty runs his tongue over his teeth. He doesn’t break eye contact with Steve, but he turns his head towards Tony to say, “Tony, are you repulsed by me?”

Yes .”

Steve can’t tell who’s more surprised by it, Ty or Tony.

It’s Ty who recovers first, though. He leans towards Tony. “You didn’t use to find me repulsive.”

Tony’s jaw flexes. “Times change.”

“And they’ll change back!” Ty grins with the smile that can only be brought, and puts a hand on Tony’s tight jaw. 

Tony freezes. 

“I look forward to it,” Ty says, and strokes a thumb over the muscle as it moves under Tony’s skin.

God, Steve hopes a teacher doesn’t show up until he breaks Ty’s nose.

“Hey,” he snaps. “Get your hands off him.”


“He obviously doesn’t like it!”

“Aw,” Ty says. He doesn’t stop stroking Tony’s face, even as Tony unfreezes and tries to pull back. “You don’t know what Tony likes.”

“I know he doesn’t like that!”

“Get  off , Ty,” Tony says, now struggling in earnest. He twists his face to the side but Ty holds him fast.

“With you? Gladly,” Ty says. “Is there a particular time that’d suit?”

Steve punches him right in his smug fucking face. It doesn’t break Ty’s nose, sadly, but it does make him let go of Tony and reel back a few steps. 

“O kay ,” Bucky says behind him, and then it all happens very quickly:

Ty recovers and throws a punch that makes it clear he’s all enthusiasm and no experience, catching Steve in the cheek but only just. Steve rolls with it and then decks Ty in the stomach, and Ty doubles over only to headbutt Steve and bring them both crashing down to the ground.

Students rage around them, a cacophony of yells and cellphone screens set to record, but all Steve notices is Bucky struggling to pull Ty off of Steve and Natasha launching into the fight to bite Ty’s shoulder and Sam yelling something at him that Steve genuinely can’t tell is a call for him to stop or go harder, but he assumes the latter.

Steve gets a few more hits in and receives a few back before Bucky can pull Ty off, at which point the fight ends when Tony runs up and brings his foot down hard on Ty’s groin.

Ty immediately curls up in pain, whatever threat he was going to spill fading off into an agonized groan. He can’t even wear at Tony, though he obviously wants to, if the tear-filled grimace is anything to go by.

Everyone goes still, the yelling dying down as Ty groans. 

Steve lets Bucky help him up. 

Tony spins to face him. “ That’s  what you’re supposed to do to incapacitate someone! Don’t hit their  face !”

“Who starts a fight by kneeing someone in the dick,” Steve says weakly.

Tony throws up his hands. “Smart people! People who don’t want to get a black eye! People-”

“You start a fight by punching them in the face, that’s how it-”

“Who TAUGHT you how to fight-”

“You just pick up stuff as you go!”

This fizzles out when Principal Fury emerges from the crowd, as measured as ever.

“Boys,” he says. He nods at Natasha, who nods back with blood on her teeth. “You’re all coming with me.”

Even sitting in the Seats of Doom, which are what everyone calls the chairs outside the Principal’s office, Steve can’t help but feel a little good about the whole situation. He finally got to punch Ty. His friends remained ride-or-die. As Bucky nursed a black eye from being elbowed in the face, Sam sat wordlessly with them and Natasha gargled water from a fountain and spat it into the drain to get the remaining blood off her teeth, a little kernel of pride glowed in Steve’s chest.

“You’re way too happy about this,” Tony says. He’s also in the Seats of Doom, but Fury has clarified that he’s only there to add his own side of the story.

Steve shrugs. “Always a good day to punch a bully.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“He was jonesing for it.”

“So? You didn’t have to - to indulge him. He can get you  expelled .”

“Fury’s had me in the office for fighting eight times,” Steve says. “He won’t expel me, no matter how much Ty offers him. Fury’s a good guy.”

Tony sighs. He’s sitting very straight and has been fiddling with his watch like it’s going to give up the world’s secrets since before they sat down.

“I’m gonna have to come up with blackmail material,” he mutters.

“Don’t blackmail Ty.”

“He’d blackmail us!” Tony drops the watch and starts chewing on a hangnail. “I’m shocked he hasn’t tried before. This is a preemptive strike. I’ve started coming up with potential blackmail plans before we broke up.”

Steve thinks about suggesting Tony might want to visit the counsellor, but it probably wouldn’t get a good response, so he keeps quiet.

“And you went with the fake boyfriend plan first,” he says.

Tony looks over at him. His teeth are poised around a hangnail. “Maybe,” he says, and it’s muffled.

“Well,” Steve says. “I, for one, am glad you did that first.”

It’s the leftover adrenaline. That’s what he tells himself. If he hadn’t just been punched in the face a bunch of times, he would have never said it so easily. Still, adrenaline doesn’t keep the panic from setting in as he waits to see how Tony will take it.

Tony drops his hand from his mouth. His finger is now bloody where he’s torn the hangnail, but Steve doesn’t think that accounts for his pained expression.

The Principal’s office door opens and Ty comes striding out. He doesn’t look at any of them, keeps his head high and his gaze straight ahead as he heads down the hall. He’s limping, which is gratifying - Tony must’ve gotten him even worse than Steve thought.

“Bye,” Natasha calls after him.

Ty flinches as he rounds the corner.

“You gotta grin as hard as you can at him for the rest of high school,” Bucky tells her. “Like, a hair away from baring your teeth.”

“Done,” she says.

Principal Fury’s voice floats into the hallway. “I don’t have all day, guys.”

They file in and sit in the Ultimate Seats of Doom.

Fury is eating an apple, and for a while that’s all he does. Steve watches him chew and swallow as he surveys them.

“I actually have a debate club meeting to get to,” Sam says after twenty seconds of this. “So if you wanna-”

“The way I understand it,” Fury says, “This was between Steve and Tiberius. Steve threw the first punch, but it sounds like Ty seriously needed it. And the rest of you just joined in to stop it.”

“Yep, that’s exactly what happened,” Tony says, and then sends a pointed look at everyone else until they echo the same. Then Tony says, “And Ty really,  really-

Fury waves his free hand. “I get you. He tried to pull the victim card, shockingly, but I’ve heard enough about Ty’s antics to know that he absolutely deserved it.”

Steve raises his eyebrows. This is news to him. He knew Fury didn’t love Ty, but he didn’t know if Fury knew the depths of Ty’s ‘antics.’

As it turns out,  Steve  doesn’t know the depths of Ty’s antics. Omitting a lot of details, Fury gives them the low-down about how Fury has been looking for a chance to expel Ty, or at least force him to transfer schools, since sophomore year. It hasn’t been just school that Ty has been getting in trouble: there’s been trouble with police, even though all of it got smoothed over by some bribes to key people. 

“That kid’s not going anywhere good,” Fury tells them. “Or, he almost definitely is, but you don’t want to be around him when he gets there. And if I can’t stop him, I want to get him away from my students.”

He takes another bite of apple. 

Steve looks at the others. He makes a  what  gesture at Tony, who gives him one right back.

“So,” Fury says. “On an unrelated note, Tiberius Stone will no longer be attending this high school as from next week.”

Everyone sits up straighter.

“Sir,” Steve says. “Did you -  threaten  him, or-”

“Of course not,” Fury says. “Tiberius has just decided that this isn’t the best place for him to finish his high school education. His  parents  have also decided this, though their feelings on the subject might be a little stronger than Ty’s. He’s heading to some fancy boarding school upstate.”

Right as he’s looking over at Tony, Steve’s grin freezes in its tracks. If Ty leaves the school - leaves the  state  - he won’t be around to bother Tony anymore. And if he’s not bothering Tony anymore -

“Tony,” Fury says. “You okay over there?”

“Great,” Tony says. He clears his throat loudly, flashes his teeth in the way Natasha now won’t have to. “I’m good. I’m - relieved! Thank god he’s gone. He was getting really irritating.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Fury says. He takes another bite of apple, chews, swallows. “Anyway. Steve, you’re suspended for three days.”

There  it is. “Yes, Sir.”

“The rest of you get a warning,” Fury says. “No more fights in school, alright? Leave it for the weekends. Dismissed. Get out so I can finish this apple in peace.”

Steve tells the others to go ahead when they make it out to the hall, then he falls into step with Tony. 

“So,” he says.

“Yep,” Tony says. His fingernail is still bleeding.

“I guess,” Steve starts, and then can’t finish.

“Yeah,” Tony says. “Uh. Good thing you don’t need my tutoring anymore. You’ve really-”


Tony nods. Takes a deep breath. “Hey, uh. Can we still - can we still be friends? Since we don’t have to be, y’know-”

“Yeah! Of course.” Steve does his best to smile with his weight behind it. “Want to keep sitting at lunch together?”

Tony hesitates. “Sure.”

“If you don’t want to-”

“No, I mean - would that make sense? We just broke up. Fake-broke-up, but people won’t know that.”

Steve considers. “People stay friends with their exes. Not  you- people, but Ty is a sociopath.”

“Right,” Tony says. “Right.”

They walk in silence down the hall.

“I guess I gotta head to class,” Tony says. “Does your suspension start now or tomorrow?”

“Uh. Now, I guess. That’s how it’s worked before.”

“You’ve gotta stop punching people.”

“I mostly have.”

They come to a stop at the end of the hall. Tony’s class is to the left, the exit is straight ahead.

“Well,” Tony says.

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I’ll see you?”

Tony nods. Hesitates. Puts a hand on Steve’s arm, but only for a second. He looks - upset. He’s hiding it, but Steve knows him now.

He takes a chance.

“Hey,” Steve says. “We never, uh. We never did kiss in public. Properly kiss, not just cheek-kisses.”

Uncertainty flickers over Tony’s face. 

Steve wills the adrenaline back again, but he’s stuck with plain old nerves.

“And I know we’re fake-breaking up, but-” he stops. Thinks back to Ty touching Tony’s face, the way Tony had frozen up for a few seconds. Ty is 100% the kind of guy to pressure people into things they don’t want to do, and he probably did that to some extent to Tony, and now Steve is standing here realizing he might be doing the same fucking thing - Tony’d been grabbed less than an hour ago, he won’t be in the right headspace to want to kiss Steve even if he  does  like him like Steve is finally daring to think he might.

“Sorry,” Steve says, after his panicked silence has gone on for an embarrassingly long time and Tony is starting to shift on the spot. “I, that was inappropriate. Never mind. Sorry. I’ll see you in a few days.”

He’s in the middle of turning away when Tony catches his arm and drags him in. 

Steve makes a surprised noise against Tony’s mouth and then melts, just a little. He doesn’t let himself fall too deep into it, but he allows himself to drift in the feel of it: Tony’s mouth moving against his, the barely-there press of tongue, Tony’s hands curling around Steve’s elbows.

As they kiss, Steve’s eyes come open slightly. It’s still strange, having someone’s face so close, but he wants to imprint it in his mind, in case this never happens again: his eyelashes, hair in the edge of Steve’s vision, everything distorted like a dream -


They jump apart. Steve waves at the security guard who’s staring them down.

“Hey, Jerry.”

Jerry nods. “Hey Steve. Your face is all busted up, you been fighting again? Thought you stopped.”

“I did,” Steve says. “Mostly.”

“Well, cut it out. Get to class.”

“I got suspended, I’m leaving. Tony's going to class, though.”

He looks back at Tony. His lips are very pink. Were they always this pink?

“So,” Tony says. “Um. See you.”

Steve nods. Tony nods back. 

“Come on,” Jerry calls. “Times a-wastin’.”

“Bye,” Tony says, and starts off down the hall.

Steve watches him go. Tony makes it five steps before Steve decides  screw it  and calls, “Want to come over for dinner?”

Tony turns. It's worth Jerry yelling at them again.

Sarah acts normally when Tony comes over, but Steve can tell she has Opinions. He’d been able to tell this earlier, when she’d come home and he’d told her that 1) he’d been suspended, 2) Tony and he ended their fake relationship and 3) Tony was coming over for dinner.

She’d stared at him, halted where she’d been halfway through pulling off her jacket. Then she’d let it hang off her as she slowly massaged her forehead.

“Okay,” she’d said. “Great. Sounds great. Three days, you said?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

She’d sighed and finished pulling off her jacket. “I’m sure you had a good reason,” she’d said, and come to inspect his bruises. As she was tilting his face around,  she’d added, “Also, you’re grounded for the three days you’re suspended.”

“Okay, Ma.”

He’d waited for more, but for the hour she’d been home before dinner and then through dinner, through Tony coming over and them explaining how the fight had happened, all Sarah does is make interested faces that Steve goddamn  knows  have hours worth of talk behind them, but she just says things like “Huh.” and “Well.” and asking Tony about how classes.

It’s infuriating. Tony catches onto the weirdness after about five minutes, glancing over at Steve like,  she’s taking all of this well.

Steve can’t think of a way to communicate  she has a lot to say but she’s saving it until you’re gone and maybe even after that , so he shelves it for later.

He’s almost relieved when she finally says, “So you guys fake broke-up, huh?”

Tony does a double take.

“She knows,” Steve says. “I told her.”

“It was time,” Tony tells Sarah. “With Ty gone, there’s not much use.”

Sarah hums. 

Steve stares determinedly at his plate, picks up one pea at a time and eats them so he doesn’t have to look up. Ma’s eyeing him. He can tell.

“Well,” she says. She spears a piece of chicken. “That’s a shame. You two were good together, even if it was fake.”

Then she goes on eating. Steve resists the urge to give her a pointed look and keeps his eyes on his plate instead. He can feel a pair of eyes on his face, but this time it might be Tony. He doesn’t look up to check. He pierces another pea on the tine of his fork.

After dinner, Sarah gets up and announces she’s going for a walk. She says this like it’s a normal thing for her to do, instead of something Steve’s never seen her do before, and she ignores every questioning look he shoots her as she pulls her jacket on and says she expects the dishes to be done by the time she gets back.

She kisses Steve on the head as she leaves, then she circles back around and kisses Tony on the head like an afterthought.

“Dishes,” she reminds them as she closes the door behind her.

“Dishes,” Steve says to the closed door. He turns to Tony, who is staring at the door in confusion, his hand on his hair at the spot where Sarah kissed.

Steve says, “Have you done dishes before?”

“I’ve... rinsed things.”

Steve snorts. “Come on,” he says, and stacks their plates to carry to the kitchen. Tony follows with the utensils. 

Steve turns the tap on so cold water runs into the newly-plugged sink. He squirts dishwashing liquid into it and waits. He leans against the sink as Tony stands in place like he isn’t sure what’s safe to lean against.

“Your mom’s cool,” Tony says.

“I know,” Steve says. Judging how Tony’s gaze drops to the floor, his brain goes the same place Steve’s does.

“How were things when you got back home,” Steve asks. “After you stayed here, I mean.”

Tony shrugs. “Ah, Dad had moved on. Surprised he was even home. He’s usually - overseas, or somewhere else, anyway. Mom’s gone on holiday again.”

“But Jarvis is there?”

“Yeah.” Tony smiles at the floor. “Yeah, he sticks around.”

“Good,” Steve says. It comes out softer than Steve intends, and when Tony looks up, there’s some of that same softness. Steve has no idea what to do with it, but he wants to learn.

He turns the tap off, gives Tony a dishtowel.

“You’re on drying duty,” he says, and Tony branishes the towel like this is actually important. 

“Gotta ease you into it,” Steve says. “If you’ve only ever rinsed things before.”

“Ah, I can handle it.”

Steve scrubs their plates, then the utensils, and hands them off to Tony, who dries and stacks them on the counter.

“So,” Steve says. “That - thing Ma said. About us being good together.”

Tony’s laugh is sharp. “Yeah - weird.”

Shit. “Weird?”

“Yeah. I mean, not - not  weird  weird. Just.” Tony rubs his towel over the last fork. “Okay, we were kind of good together.”

Steve nods. He pulls the plug from the sink. “I thought so.”

Tony’s head jerks towards him. “Yeah?”

“Mm.” Steve watches the water spiral down the drain. He wipes his hands on his jeans. “I - yeah. I thought we were good together.”

Tony swallows. He keeps drying the fork. 

“It’s probably dry by now,” Steve says when Tony doesn’t stop.

“What?” Tony zones back in. “Right.”

He puts the fork on the bench. “So where do these, uh. Where do they-”

He looks around at the cupboards and drawers, and Steve goes to point out the cutlery drawer when Tony takes a ragged breath and says, “Hey, would you. I mean, if you wanted, we could. Keep dating. Just keep it going. For real, though.”

Steve suddenly needs to wipe his hands on his jeans again. “Would… you want that?”

“Only if you do.”

Steve nods slowly. “I’d like that.”


Tony grins. He then visibly tries to stop smiling, but it doesn’t do much. It’s adorable.

“Okay,” Tony says. “Okay, cool.”

“Cool,” Steve says. 

They stand there in the kitchen trying not to smile too hard at each other.

“Can we lose most of the pet names,” Steve asks.

“Oh, fuck yes,” Tony says, and pauses. “Which ones do you want to keep?”

“Uh.” Steve can’t bring himself to say  sunshine  or  honey,  both of which Tony used sparingly and made Steve’s breath stick in his throat every time. “We’ll just - use the ones we wanna use, how’s that?”

“Sounds good. Can I buy you things?”

Steve opens his mouth to say no, but then he takes another look at Tony’s pleading eyes.

“I’ll consider it,” Steve says. “If they’re not too outrageous.”

“I feel like your idea of outrageous is different than my idea of outrageous,” Tony says, coming forwards to drape his arms around Steve’s shoulders.

Steve revels in it. Being this close to Tony and having it not be a performance - it’s distracting.

“We’ll talk about it,” he says, and watches Tony grin.

When Sarah comes home, Steve and Tony are on the couch, sitting close enough to each other that their knees are overlapping.

She takes a look at them and her face brightens cautiously. “You two look cozy.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Uh, we decided to not break up. Or, we decided to properly start dating in the first place.”

The caution leaves her face, lapsing into pure brightness. “I can’t believe going for a walk worked! I thought you two were going to keep being dense until college. I’m a genius!”

“Sure,” Steve says. “Thanks for maneuvering us together with your master plan, Ma.”

“Thanks, Ms. Rogers,” Tony says, and when she gives him a look: “Sarah! I meant Sarah. Sorry.”

She comes forward and kisses both their heads, then heads into the kitchen saying something about ice cream. She’s in there for maybe a second before poking her head back out again.

“Guys. Since when did doing the dishes not involve putting them away?”

It takes a second to sink in.

“Oh,” Steve says. “Damn. We forgot.”

“Sorry,” Tony repeats, and the two of them help each other off the couch.