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Tonight we're gonna make it all come true

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"Thirty-four reps," is the first thing Ms. Hill tells Steve, after shaking his hand. "Very impressive."

"Thank you," Steve replies.

If she’s expecting him to remind her, Coach Fury and the rest of the Avengers’ staff piled up in the interview room that he's not just brute strength, then she’ll be disappointed. They came to see him play college football several times, and Ms. Hill, as the director of the recruitment department for the Avengers, must have watched hours of his tapes. They know Steve is quick, and has good hands, too. On the other hand, Steve sweated blood to bench press those 225 pounds thirty-four times, and he's proud of it. Not a record, but pretty great for a tight end and ten reps above the max the other invited tight ends did today.

"I'm happy that I could continue to improve in the off-season."

"Here," Ms. Hill says, offering him a bottled milk shake.

Steve perks up and takes it gratefully; he's famished. It's late, and this is the final meeting before he can go back to his hotel room. His last interview of the combine, thank god. Frankly, Steve can't wait to be done.

"Thank you," he repeats, this time with feeling, ripping the bottle's cap off and downing it in five long swallows. Oh yeah, that's good. It's his favorite flavor of caramel and chocolate and he wonders if Ms. Hill knew that. Probably, by the way she's smiling indulgently as he tops off the drink.

Steve finds himself relaxing a bit, taking a deep breath, and vows to focus the best he can on whoever speaks next. Interviews always make him nervous, and the ones he is fortunate to have here at the NFL scouting combine could make or break his football career. He was coached to perform well in them; told time and time again that his genuineness and love of the game of football shines through and not to worry too much. It's still a lot, and Steve wants to make a good impression, convince teams he's a great prospect.

Everything Steve’s worked so hard for comes down to these four days — three down, one to go!. The combine has been filled with a series of tests, physical and psychological, designed to push the 300 invited players to their limits in front of representatives from every NFL team. Steve has been touring each team's tables in the holding pen in the evening, like the other guys, but he’s also been lucky enough that he's been asked to attend 12 of a maximum of 15 individual interviews too. Scott is on a high, excitedly telling everyone that he is certain that Steve is going to cement his spot high in all the draft rankings. It might not be just Scott’s excited agent talk, but it’s on the condition that Steve performs as he hopes tomorrow in the rest of the physical tests. And on his pro day scheduled in Spring Break, in a bit more than three weeks.

"You've been in demand," Coach Fury says, as if he's reading Steve's mind. He's got his arms crossed over his chest, legs stretched out and head cocked. Fury's whole body language says that he still needs to be convinced that Steve is the real deal. Frankly, Steve prefers that to other teams who took their allocated fifteen minutes to ask him weird questions, like what kind of tree he would be. He also prefers it to when he was still in high school, where the NCAA scouts and coaches would only wax poetic about how Steve would be the perfect asset for their teams. "How do you feel about that?"

"It's very flattering, Sir." He should stop there, or add how much he's worked for a good position in the draft, but he's tired and genuine honesty slips out instead. "But it's also quite a bit of pressure." Steve straightens, noting how one of Fury's eyebrows has risen. "But I can take it. I always perform well under pressure." There, that's a good save.

"I'll give you that," Fury says. Before Steve can thank him, he adds, "for a relative notion of pressure. The NFL is above and beyond what you've experienced at NC State."

"Absolutely," Steve agrees, instead of defending his football accomplishments. Frankly, playing against Clemson with over 80 000 hostile fans in the stands felt like a lot of pressure at the time. "But I was thinking more about juggling school, work, taking care of my mom and football on top."

"You forgot community service," Ms. Hill says, twirling a pen. Steve worries for a second that he came off as bragging, when he genuinely meant that his life for the last four years have been like walking a tightrope. "Congratulations for the John Mackey Award, by the way. Very well deserved."

"Oh, thanks. It is definitely an honor." Of all of Steve's trophies and awards, it is his favorite. It's the ultimate tight end reward, in his eye, since it's not only for performance but also sportsmanship, academics, and community values.

"And what about being the Godfather pick? First in the draft?" Fury asks.

The Avengers have that precious first pick this year, and Steve's breath catches. Even if Scott has been hyping the possibility that Steve could make it, he hadn't believed him. It would be huge. When Steve had booked the interview with the Avengers, he thought they'd planned on trading the Godfather pick to get two or three lower first round choices, where Steve would potentially be available, not that they were considering him for it.

"That would be something." Wow. Really?

"So, is the combine what you thought it would be?" Ms. Hill asks, taking pity in the face of Steve's genuine surprise and his likely gobsmacked expression.

It works and Steve pushes away the enormity of what Coach Fury suggested to fall back into the well known grooves he was prepared for.

"I was told it was intense, and it sure is." Especially the mental toll, if Steve is being honest. It's been three days of being firstly examined by tons of doctors for hours, x-rays, and then measured, tested in various ways before being interviewed. The weight lifting had been the first opportunity for him to actually do something physical, and, as exhausting as it was, it was very welcome. "I'm looking forward to the tests and position drills tomorrow, to show what I can do."

"We can't wait to see that too," Ms. Hill says.

And then Coach Fury asks one of the strangest football related questions Steve has had since he arrived.

"Tell me, Rogers… What, in your opinion, makes a good quarterback?"

"Intelligence, the ability to read the field, a good arm," Steve immediately replies, even if he knows that's a cliché answer. Why is Coach Fury asking him about a position that Steve doesn't play? "But I think that being able to adapt, having guts, and accuracy makes great quarterbacks."

"Instinct over brains, then?" Fury asks.

"Hopefully both? While being athletic," Steve says, making everyone in the room smile, which he considers a definite win.

"Ah, the elusive unicorn!' Fury jokes.

Maybe not so much, Steve muses, thoughts going towards the young Stanford quarterback that keeps catching his eye, Tony Stark. Steve hadn't been able to keep his eyes off him at the East-West Shrine practices and games back in January.

To be honest, Steve was fascinated by Stark the first and only time they'd played a real game against each other, at the Sun Bowl three years ago on New Year's Eve. Steve had been deeply frustrated as the Cardinals had kicked their ass, the then sixteen year old baby QB tearing their defense into tiny little pieces. Stark has only gotten better since.

To Steve it seems like the guy has it all, and he's gorgeous too. Steve mentally shakes himself to get his focus back on the interview: surely there must not be long to go now.

***

It's at long last the fourth day of the combine, and there are blessedly no doctors or interviews on Steve’s schedule today. No, this is the chance to prove how fast, agile, and versatile Steve is in the various speed and jump tests, plus his favorites: the tight end specific drills. Sure it's under close scrutiny, cameras capturing everything while teams and other players watch closely, but Steve is competitive by nature. He loves that stuff, and he’s well prepared. He also hopes that the extra pressure will help him perform even better than at the college's gym.

Steve is very satisfied with his 40-yard dash results, where he came in third for the tight ends with 4.58 seconds, but even more that he's first for the 3 cone drill and broad jump. He totally flubbed his second vertical jump try, however, which frustrates him.

The whole day is spent moving between stations and waiting for his turn, and watching the other guys perform. There is so much talent in the same place, and the skill level is impressive. He cheers and encourages his friends, especially his fellow Wolfpack teammate DumDum... and again Steve's eyes often seek the dark curls of Tony Stark, as if he's some kind of magnet.

Stark has been the subject of locker room and tabloid conversation for years. The young genius is said to be richer than most pro players and has been stacking up victories and an impressive pass completion ratio since his first game. He won his starting spot as a true freshman, three years ago, and has been rewriting the Stanford Cardinals’ quarterback record book since (unfortunately, while beating the Wolfpack in his first Bowl). Stark's rivalry with Loki, quarterback of the University of California, Berkeley - or CAL - across the Bay is legendary. Steve’s watched them swap first and second draft positions in the QB prospect rankings all season and it’s clear they hate each other's guts. The tension between the two of them is visible here at the combine, for sure.

He doesn’t cross paths with Stark until they do the position drills. It’s where Steve finally feels most at ease. The instructors work them through various exercises, which for Steve means either blocks or catching passes. When it's time to push the guy holding the cushion, Steve does it with everything he has, planting his feet and shoving with all of his strength. But what he loves best is catching the ball. Running on a line and being thrown footballs right and left in succession is stressful, but he doesn't drop any. On the routes drill, he gets to catch the ball thrown by both Stark and Loki, who are both accurate. But Stark? After the second throw they are perfectly in synch. It goes extremely well, and Steve can't stop smiling.

"Hey, Rogers, good job!" Stark says, walking to him as they go grab lunch. Steve's stomach swoops at the opportunity of talking to him. The guy looks great in his tight purple shirt, that is for sure.

"Steve, please," Steve asks as they get in line for food.

"Okay, Steve, as long as you call meTony," he replies with a charming smile.

"Deal. Oh, and thanks for making me look good. The ball was right in front of my face every single time!"

Tony winks, playful. "Easy to do with someone who is in the right place at the right time!"

"Still," Steve says. "You did great."

When Tony smiles, it's with unexpected shyness for someone who generally projects confidence. He's young, though, which Steve was reminded of when he read up on him the night before. Tony is only nineteen years old and got into Stanford when he was sixteen.

"You declared early," Steve remarks.

Tony huffs. "Yeah, it was so frustrating that I couldn't do it earlier. The three years rule is stupid, don't you think? Either you're ready or you're not."

Steve personally thinks the three years needed between highschool and being eligible for the draft is a good idea. He doesn't feel like arguing with Tony though.

"I wasn't," Steve says with a shrug. Like most potential draftee, he chose to play a fourth year in college.

"Please," Tony says, gesturing with his right hand. "You'd have been a first-round pick last year too."

Tony knows about him? It makes Steve want to preen a little.

"Not sure about first round last year, but thanks. Football is one thing. I did my fourth year because I wanted to finish my graphic design degree first."

It was an insurance, of sorts, but Steve has genuinely enjoyed the program. If he gets signed following the draft, that's millions of dollars in the short term. But football can be cruel: what if he's injured? A professional career in the NFL is 3.3 years on average, and Steve will need something to fill his days when it's over. If he’s being really honest: his mom would probably have killed him if he'd dropped out of a full ride scholarship in a good school without his degree.

Tony takes a sub and a good helping of macaroni salad. Steve doubles the quantities on his own tray without feeling guilty.

"Good for you," Tony says. "I had to start a PhD to fill the third year of ineligibility."

Steve’s mind boggles, unsure that he heard right. "What? A PhD?"

The remark gets waved off. "School is easy for me," Tony says.

That offers an opening for Steve to reference the Wonderlic test. He doesn't know his own score, but a rumor has been rampant all day that Tony scored a perfect 50, the first to do so since Pat McInally in 1975.

"Is it true, that you got a 50 on the Wonderlic?"

"Probably," Tony says nonchalantly. "I only reviewed half of the questions, but it all looked okay."

Shit. The Wonderlic questions might be fairly easy, but the test is still 50 problems to solve in 12 minutes. Steve had focused on the easy ones and didn't even finish. He's confident he got 28 of them, at least. Maybe 32, which would be a very good score. Historically tight ends average 22. Quarterbacks 24. It's said that teams look for at least 21 in a quarterback.

Steve whistles in admiration as they move towards the cutlery station. "Good for you."

"Unfortunately, it still doesn't make up for what you lack in height," Loki says, rudely cutting into the conversation. Both Tony and Steve hadn't realized he was right behind them in the line and listening in.

Tony freezes, and when he turns to Loki, his smile is razor sharp, surely prepared to say something cutting back. For years now Tony's height has been a point of contention when discussing if he's true NFL material, and it's definitely a sore spot for him. Steve is worried Loki and Tony might come to blows, which is the kind of attention Tony doesn't need.

"Maybe not. But the three inches of height you have on him doesn't change the fact that Tony whooped your ass in the Big Game," Steve says.

Loki opens his mouth without making a sound, shocked silent. He stares at Steve for half a second, then sneers and leaves in a huff. Good. Tony looks at Steve with wide eyes.

"Thanks, that was…" He's speechless, as if no one ever came to his defense before.

"I don't like bullies," Steve says with a shrug. "Anyway, he's talking shit and you know it. You're as tall as Russel Wilson, and Kyler Murray got picked first last year, so…"

"Loki is an asshole. And yeah, he's bitter. But you didn't have to do that." Tony slides closer to gently bump his elbow on Steve's arm, smile wide and more genuine than it's been all week. It makes him appear even more handsome.

"My pleasure. Not that you needed my help, I'm sure." In no way does he want to imply that Tony needed the rescue.

"No, not really. But it's nice." They take their trays to a table that is removed from the others, as far as they can be, anyway. Tony looks around, then back at Steve with sparkles in his eyes. "In return, I'll let you in on a secret, if you promise not to tell a soul, ever."

Fascinated, Steve leans in. "Yeah, sure." He would probably agree to a lot of things in order to keep Tony's focus like that, and get him to move closer. Their knees bump under the table.

"Did you know that CAL stole the Axe for a few hours?"

Steve had taken a bite of his first sub and almost chokes on it. "No way!"

The Stanford Axe — a literal axe-head mounted on a wooden plate, with the dates and scores of the annual Big Game between the two football teams — is the physical manifestation of the rivalry between Stanford University and the University of California in Berkeley (CAL). The story Steve has read was that It first appeared in 1899, made by Stanford students for a rally, but then was stolen by CAL students and kept in a bank vault for years. An elaborate scheme including camera flashes, tear gas, and costumes allowed 21 students from Stanford to steal it back in 1930. Three years later, the universities decided that the Axe would be the trophy awarded to the Big Game's winner. It's always kept under heavy surveillance, and is paraded in spring baseball and Big Game rallies, but there have still been a number of successful and unsuccessful attempts to steal it. As far as Steve knows, the last time it was actually stolen was in the early 70s.

"How come no one heard about it?"

"Because we got it back two hours later," Tony says. "The Cardinals and the Golden Bears came to a mutual agreement that releasing the information would embarrass us both. For Stanford because we got tricked - I swear, Loki is a magician or some shit, I am still not sure how they pulled it off - but for CAL it's just pathetic how we stole it back two hours later, before it was even secure."

"And how did you do that?"

"Have you heard about the Solar Car Project?" Tony asks, eyes sparking. "It's one reason why I chose Stanford, to be honest. Our machine is pretty sick, it won the competition by the way, and I'd just improved the top speed for it that very same day. So when we found out about CAL's heist on the Axe, we knew that the best chance to get it back was before they locked it in some vault again. They executed a variant of what the Immortal 21 did, but more in your face. Multiple copies of Loki lookalikes, in long trench coats and hats, all with a muscle squad. They kept passing the Axe to each other, and then fake axes too, just to confuse us. Reports of Loki smuggling the Axe were coming from all over town. But I know him. I saw the pics and immediately knew which was the real Loki. I was also sure that his ego meant that Loki had planned to be the one to put the axe in the final location. So-"

Steve realizes that he has stopped eating to better follow the story, and the arc of Tony's hands in the air as he gesticulates about rushing to the real Loki, taking the Axe back when the last switch happened, and then speeding away victoriously in their solar car prototype. He stopped eating the food in front of him. His mother would be dragging him to the doctors to work out what’s wrong with him if she saw. Steve hasn’t ignored food since he turned twelve and started his growth spurt.

There is no doubt in Steve's mind: Tony's one of the most fascinating people he's ever met. And drop dead gorgeous, too. No two ways about it, his curiosity about Tony is rapidly turning into a severe crush.

Shit. As if Steve needed a distraction like that, especially now! He's always made it a rule not to develop an interest in other football players, especially with how homophobic the locker room culture is. Also, even if Tony liked him back — which is less than probable — it wouldn't lead to anything serious. Steve doesn't do hook-ups, not with men. After the draft, there are chances he'll never cross paths with Tony again other than shaking hands after a game if they both make it pro.

Still, he resists the temptation to dampen the crush down: the rush of endorphins that comes with such an intense attraction is nice, too. Steve's been putting off dating for a while, too busy with everything else in his life. He can indulge in this one way crush for the day, he’s sure it will die by itself soon enough.

 

**

Combine interviews, the subsequent highly attended pro day at NC State during Spring Break, and pre-draft visits to five teams (including the Avengers) for more interviews and written tests… it’s all been good. It’s great even, and it confirms that there is a lot of interest. Steve is proud that his hard work is being noticed.

But he also has a degree to finish and a project to turn in soon. It’s been an insane couple of weeks, with still more to go and Steve feels stretched thin.

He started playing football to follow Bucky right out of grade school, even if he was as skinny as a rail. To everyone's surprise — and let’s be real, he was the first one to be shocked about it — he turned out to be a natural. From day one, Steve could read the game easily and had a knack for catching the ball. His middle school coach had seen his determination and hard work in practices, and had given Steve play time. Sure, it didn’t hurt that they barely had the minimum number of players to have a functioning team, but still.

Diving into football was a revelation in more ways than one. Not only did Steve become obsessed with his new passion, he also went from being invisible to popular within just a few weeks. It had definitely been a shock to his 120 pound self. Heck, Steve had even joined, at barely over 5 feet tall, the basketball team, and found out he was good with round balls as well as oval ones.

He took to training with gusto and rapidly bulked up. Bucky loved to say that starting to play football had kick started Steve’s whole body, and that he was so bullheaded that he finally started growing too. Because of his great hands when it came to catching the ball, they mostly used him as a wide receiver in his first years playing the game. Eventually, he found his niche as a tight end. He likes the versatility of the position: sometimes focusing on blocks, other times catching the ball and driving the offense forward. Him and Buck, a very good quarterback, had made a fantastic duo in their little school in Brooklyn and the NCAA offers started pouring in while they were still juniors. Steve had several offers for basketball, too.

Eventually, Bucky joined the Army and their football team, which wasn't surprising at all. He’d always wanted to enlist, even when they were young. Steve had considered it too, but opted for a degree in graphic design instead. With that decision made, he chose NC State mainly because of their great reputation and their collaborative approach with outside design studios. It was also because NC State was a route into a Division 1 football programme that kept his NFL dream alive. By then his mom was suffering from chronic kidney disease, and Steve worried about that a lot. While the scholarships from NC State took care of the college fees, Steve still had to work a job around school and football to make sure that she got the help and treatments she so desperately needed.

Unfortunately, Bucky hurt his arm when deployed, which ended both his football and military careers through medical retirement. He's still Steve's second most vocal cheerleader, though, after his mom. So when Steve gets an invitation to the Green Room during the draft — be on site as they call the draftee's names, in a special room with guests, and mingling with other top players and the industry — it's a no-brainer to bring both his mom and Bucky to Las Vegas. And Scott, of course, who almost hyperventilates at the news.

Draft day will be the biggest night of Steve’s life to date, and he will get to walk that stage, and live the hype. So why not go all the way and experience the Green Room, too? He's confident he'll be drafted in the first round, and not cruelly left there, unpicked, at the end of the night, which would be humiliating. And, well, Tony was confirmed as a Green Room attendee, too, which might have factored into Steve's decision. A bit.

Steve is incredibly nervous and excited. It's a whole different feeling than going from high school to the NCAA, where ultimately he was in control of where he'd end up. Now he's at the mercy of a draft and whichever team picks him first. In an ideal world, he'd be chosen by a team that has a system that is a good fit with his abilities, where he won't be too far down the depth chart, with great coaching, and hopefully a team that will win. Not only is winning more fun — and everyone who knows Steve knows that losing leaves him extremely grumpy and frustrated — but it also hopefully means a more stable team structure, coaching and a consistent play system.

Honestly, the Avengers fit most of his criteria, but Steve is still skeptical that he'll be the Godfather pick. He knows he's good, but there's a lot of talent eligible. It's not false modesty, he's just realistic. There is T'Challa and his athleticism and sticky fingers that guarantee spectacular catches, and who has been the top pick in the 2020 mock drafts for at least three years now. Heck, everyone knows that the Avengers are looking for a quarterback, so Tony and Loki must be high in their listing. Drax has been turning heads, too, and an excellent O-line is always sought after.

The Avengers have first pick because of a trade they made two years ago. It was a bold move at the time, as they had let go of three of their seven picks (second, third and fifth round) of that year, plus an established player, to the X-Force for their first pick of 2020. The X-Force had been a rising team at the time, and the gamble had angered the Avengers fans, since their team had not been doing so well. Unfortunately for the X-Force, freak injuries, poor coaching, and what seemed like pure bad luck brought them to the last position in the league this year. Suddenly, the two year old negotiated first-round pick for this draft is worth a lot more than anyone, even the Avengers, expected. Plus, the Avengers have the sixth slot in the first round that they earned by their own position in the final team rankings, too. It makes the 2020 draft a potential bounty in raw talent for the franchise.

Scott seems a lot more confident and excited at the prospect of a Godfather pick than Steve… though that's just Scott for you, always thinking big. Steve has heard so many times, even by coaches he trusts, that he should dump Scott because he’s a rookie agent. Steve is his first client. Heck, there have been dozens of sharks that circled Steve for years, well-known and respected names too, promising him fortunes if he hired them instead. But he stuck with Scott: at this point, it's probably 80% loyalty and 20% stubbornness. Scott might be as green as Steve is, but he's cunning and has a talent for getting what he aims for while letting people underestimate him. Steve is confidant that he'll have a fair contract wherever he lands. Besides, the base salaries are fixed, so anything on top is just gravy (and frankly indecent as a whole).

The fateful Thursday, the first day of the 2020 draft, is finally here. Steve always hated the assumptions that he never had to work for his grades because he was a star for the Wolfpack. Patently not true, or at least not for his program. Do some guys have it easier, in 'exploratory studies'? And are there legitimate gimmicks and fluff courses? Yes, of course. In his opinion, there aren't any players being given a total free ride ‘no matter what’ anymore. Their grades are closely monitored, and a good player that doesn't do so well in school will have the best tutors, the team sees to that. Steve, for one, worked hard for his graphic design degree, and you can't half ass an interface meant to address advanced visual communication problems. But he has to admit that it was easy to arrange with his professors to miss the last day of class so that he can fly to Vegas the night before the draft. He'll be back for the finals, after all.

He's never been to Las Vegas, and the little he can see is crazy; busy, loud and full of lights. To his surprise, Steve gets recognized at the airport, and then later getting out of the cab at his hotel (and asked for autographs both times, right next to slot machines). People pressing in aggressively and shoving pictures, trading cards, and several footballs in his face doesn’t make him want to explore the city or the Strip, and so he's been hiding in his rented suite with his mom, Bucky, and Scott instead.

Steve stress eats continuously from the moment he gets out of bed, picking through the food Bucky and Scott keep ordering from room service. The day seems to stretch before it is time to get ready and Steve isn't sure he wants to jump into the media frenzy anymore. Bucky has the TV on where analysts are making predictions. Steve keeps hearing his name, which makes him even more nervous. What if everyone is just over-hyping him? What if he doesn't get drafted until late in the round, and it starts speculations about his health or attitude? Or worse, what if he gets picked very early, and cannot deliver when he tries to make the starting roster? It would be humiliating.

He waits until the last minute to get dressed - formal wear always makes him feel too stiff - and checks his phone instead. There are tons of texts messages from practically everyone he knows. His Twitter handle seems to have been shared - even if he rarely uses it. His name is trending in the US and he's getting mentioned constantly there, too, and he seems to have gained a few thousand followers. At least his private Instagram is only followed by a few close friends who aren't making a big deal about the draft. Yet. He sees on his feed that Tony has posted a picture of a helicopter ride over the city, captioned as "... and that's why my BFF is better than yours! Thanks for the joyride Platypus <3".

It makes Steve smile, though he'd had preferred to see Tony's handsome face, so he flips through the various posts of his account like the pathetic infatuated idiot he is. He's been following Tony since the Sun Bowl they played against each other three years ago and has seen the account grow to reach almost 300 K followers. It's probably creepy that Steve knows that the “BFF” is Tony's friend in the Air Force. He’s one of the rare people who have shown up consistently in the photographs and stories Tony has posted over the years, though, he must not be alone knowing that? Tony's account is a mix of football pictures — some from games and others with fans, the solar car team and other vehicles or metal contraptions, engines and artistic shots of the Pacific coast, and Steve's favorites: training selfies. There are way fewer girls than Tony's borderline playboy reputation would lead you to believe, which Steve appreciates.

When he can’t put it off any longer, Steve takes his clothes out of the garment bag - he ironed them early in the morning, when he couldn't sleep anymore. It's a custom fit dark blue suit, with a vest of the same color, that the tailor advised him to match with a light blue shirt. As he considers himself in the mirror, he has to admit it looks very good and flattering, even though he feels some seams might pop if he flexes too strongly. The final touch is a tie with a red and white striped pattern that he knots with care. It will do, Steve judges, as he puts a bit of product in his hair.

As Steve enters the shared living room, Bucky looks him up and down and cocks his head to the side. "You almost look like the American Flag."

"What?" Steve exclaims with a sudden surge of panic.

He turns to the mirrored wall of the living room and his stomach sinks. He wouldn't have said that earlier, but now that Bucky mentioned it, he can't unsee the resemblance. The ensemble only misses a couple of stars and then it would be more than obvious. Steve liked the touch of red, but he also has a spare tie in blue and silver that would probably be better… His mother walks over and catches Steve's hands as he reaches for his neck and stops him.

"Steve, honey, relax. You don't look like the flag," Sarah says gently.

"No?"

"No. You are very handsome," she adds with a smile, fixing his collar.

"Thanks," Steve says, breathing in deeply to let go of the stress. Sarah is wearing a peach gown that flatters her slender frame and gives a rosy tint to her cheeks. Or maybe the excitement is getting to her, too. "You are beautiful, mom."

"Thank you. I'd say we all look good," she says.

"Damn straight," Bucky exclaims.

It's true that Buck looks dashing, too, in a classic black suit with a steel grey shirt and black tie. Scott brings the color in their group with a dark red coat over grey pants and a white shirt. He insists that they take several pictures before leaving the hotel which turns into a ridiculous mock-modeling shoot and dozens of selfies.

They need to haul it after that to reach the Green Room in time, especially since Steve gets stopped in the lobby for autographs once more. Their cab takes them to the venue on the Strip where the circus begins. Steve walks the red carpet, and there are lights, media, thumping music, and even louder fans. Over one hundred thousand of them, for sure, and it's completely insane. Within minutes Steve feels stretched in all directions, sought after for quotes and pictures, signing footballs and other autographs. And that's without counting the greetings from other players, various team entourages, high end coaches, and celebrities. He is about to retreat to the bathroom for a breather when Steve suddenly comes face to face with Tony, who beams at him.

"Hey Steve! Hi! Looking sharp, buddy!" Tony says.

Steve straightens up a bit at the praise, grinning back, and his heart is definitely thumping in his chest with more than nerves now. Okay, so the crush didn't disappear in the seven weeks since he saw Tony last, that's for sure. Tony's wearing a bright red suit with a matching red tie and yellow tinted glasses. It should be over the top but looks fantastic instead, the way he totally owns it. Steve allows himself a thorough up and down, admiring the perfect fit, smiling at the gold Chuck Taylors.

"You look great too," he replies. Gorgeous, in fact, especially with his hair and goatee perfectly styled for the occasion.

Steve's smile almost drops off his face when a tall strawberry blond woman in a silver and blue dress slides a hand in the crook of Tony's arm, slotting by his side.

"There you are," she chides lightly at Tony before smiling at Steve. "You'd think it would be impossible to lose him with a suit like that, but one second he was by my side and the next he'd disappeared!"

She is beautiful, really, and Steve's heart sinks as he tries not to let the disappointment show on his face. Of course Tony has a girlfriend. He remembers seeing her in a few Instagram shots even, why did he not connect the dots? He's told himself so many times it was just a harmless crush, that he had no expectations. Clearly his subconscious spun its own fantasies to be this affected by the fact that Tony is taken. Heck, Steve hadn’t thought that the red-haired girl could be Tony's girlfriend in the first place, that's how deep in his own world he was.

"Hey, the suit made it easy for you to find me again, no?" Tony jokes right back, grinning at her. "Pepper, this is Steve Rogers from NC State. Steve, this is Pepper Potts, my better half."

"Nice to meet you," Steve manages to say. Jealousy over something that was never meant to be is unbecoming, and Steve forces himself to focus on the fact that Tony looks happy, at least. They are a very good-looking couple.

To his surprise, Pepper rolls her eyes at the introduction. "Stop saying that, you're giving people the wrong impression. I'm his agent," she corrects.

"And wrangler," Tony adds. "As I said, better half. I wouldn't survive a week without you."

"You better learn, though. We talked about this!" Pepper says.

His agent? Oh, not a girlfriend, then. The instant relief at the news gives Steve whiplash. Although Tony's actual girlfriend might be around, too?

"Did you bring any other guests?" Steve asks obliquely.

Tony's smile dims a bit, before coming back almost immediately. "Nah, just me, Pep, and my best friend Rhodey. You?"

"My mom, my agent Scott, and my best friend, too."

He'd love to talk more, but there are people herding them towards the Green Room since the draft is about to start. Steve manages what must look like a dorky wave and they are separated, each brought to various sets of couches and tables set in little clusters where their entourage are waiting. There are more cameras and TVs on the walls that show footage of the stage and the band playing.

At last Steve sits down with his mother on a sofa, Bucky taking the closest armchair. It takes a second for Steve to spot Scott, who is going around the room shaking hands. Steve might allow himself a moment to admire Tony from afar, too.

Bucky leans in, bringing Steve's focus back to their group.

"This is completely nuts!" Bucky says, speaking low so as not to be overheard.

"I know!" Steve whispers back.

"Are you doing okay?" his mom asks, taking his hand. As always, she radiates assurance - posture straight, kind eyes, and all her attention on him, even in the chaos - and Steve's nerves settle a little.

He smiles at her and squeezes her hand lightly, grateful that she is by his side. "I'm doing great. It's just a lot."

"Of course. Everything will be fine, darling."

The glamor and noise is so not Steve's scene. He can't help but scan the room again and stops on Tony, champagne glass in hand and laughing at a joke. For sure he looks in his element, skillfully passing his drink from one hand to the other to shake someone's hand before turning to someone else. And damn, those red pants are flattering as hell.

"Maybe you could ask for a picture to take back home," Bucky teases, making Steve startle. He can feel his cheeks heat up with embarrassment at being caught staring.

"James," Sarah admonishes, but Bucky doesn't look repentant at all.

He shrugs and winks. "Just saying."

"He looks nice," his mom adds, and it does not fool Steve. She has that little smile that means she is subtly teasing him too.

Steve groans, hiding his face in his hands. He can't be this obvious, right? On the other hand, these are the two people that know him the most in the entire world, and Tony is the embodiment of his type. Of course they know.

"Please, you two, don't. I don't need this right now."

Not when cameras are constantly recording, and his future is on the line. Speaking of, the draft has gone inexorably forward, and the Avenger's ten minutes allowed to announce the first pick of the night is almost finished.

"They knew they had the first choice, didn't they prepare? Why is it taking so long?" Sarah asks.

"Money," Scott says, plopping down next to them. "They probably made a couple of calls, to see if they could make a crazy trade for the Godfather offer. Also, as the time goes down on the timer, ESPN, the NFL Network, and everyone commenting on the draft are giving the New York Avengers tons of exposure. Same goes for the sponsors and advertisers. And, hopefully…" Scott trails off, staring at Steve's chest for some reason.

Steve looks down, puzzled, and almost jumps out of his skin when his cell phone — in his breast pocket — vibrates with an incoming call.

"Yesssss!" Scott says, pumping the air.

From one second to the next, it feels like Steve's heart rate triples. Oh shit! Is that it? Is that the call to announce he's being picked? Maybe it's an unfortunate false number: everyone he knows has been repeatedly told by Scott how texts (muted for now) are okay, but not to call Steve before he is officially drafted under threat of a painful death. Steve is frozen in place, at least until Bucky hisses at him.

"Come on, Stevie!"

With a trembling hand — he almost drops the phone, and then barely avoids sending Fury to voicemail, because it is his name on Caller ID — Steve finally picks up. He plugs his free ear with a finger to hear better and ignores the cameras and what seems to be lots of people looking his way.

"Hello?" he croaks out, his mom rubbing his back in support.

"Hey Rogers, Fury and Stan here," Coach Fury says, and Steve hears the general manager of the Avengers, Stan Lee, greet him too. "We've been convinced for a while that you're exactly the man the Avengers need as they reconstruct. Are you ready to become part of the team?"

"Yes sir. Wow. So much. Thank you for your confidence. You won't regret this. Thank you."

"Our pleasure, believe me. Okay. The runner's gone with the card, so we will hang up now so you can watch your name be called."

"Okay. Thank you again."

Steve hangs up and can't stop looking at his phone as his mom, Bucky, and Scott close in, excited and congratulating him. Did that just happen? But then he hears Roger Goddell make the official announcement and they all stand up.

"With the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the New York Avengers select Steve Rogers, tight end, from NC State."

The crowd in attendance in front of the stage screams, and all around Steve people are cheering and clapping too. He takes a moment to hug his mom tightly and has to fight not to cry right there.

"I'm so proud of you baby," she says, kissing his cheek.

Bucky joins in the hug, whooping in delight. "Way to go, punk!"

"Thanks man," Steve says, hugging him too. "Wouldn't be here without you guys."

"What did I tell you, huh?" Scott says, beaming.

Steve is being shown the way towards the corridor leading to the stage, so he leaves his loved ones behind and makes his way there. There are tons of cameramen, people shouting congratulations, players shaking his hand as he passes, and pictures taken. Steve smiles and smiles, overwhelmed. Just before he enters the stage someone gives him an Avengers cap that he immediately puts on. Yeah, he's an Avenger now! It's with a wide grin that he walks up to the league's commissioner, who has an Avengers jersey sporting his name and the number 1 ready. They hug, Goddell offering his own congrats, then they take pictures shaking hands with the jersey well displayed while the band plays and the crowd cheers on.

First pick first pick first pick keeps running through Steve's head, and he's pretty sure he's high on adrenaline right now. He's aware that he's slightly dissociating as he goes through the motions, dealing with the press and special shows that are showing him tweets and testimonials. At the same time, he's trying to soak in as much as he can of this incredible rush.

Steve feels as if he's repeating over and over again that it's been a lot of hard work, and how the Avengers are a perfect fit for him. That he can't wait to fight for a spot on the team. Being caught in the whole circus means that he's unaware of who got picked after him and in what order. At one point though, as Steve is brought to yet another television crew, he passes by Loki giving an interview of his own, clutching a grey cap in his hands.

Drafted by the Brigade, Steve realizes. They had the third choice. Did Tony go second? If not, it must piss him off that Loki got drafted first. Loki is smiling at the interviewer's questions, but it seems a little forced, which is surprising... Steve would have thought Loki would be comfortable with the attention. After all, he is a second-generation football player, his father Odin was a star player in the eighties. Also, his older brother, Thor, is already in the NFL — with the Avengers, thinking of it. Then the penny drops for Steve: Odin used to play for the Brigade! It's already rough being 'the son of -' and wanting to prove that you made it on your own merits, but now Loki will have to live with the comparison to his father even more. Steve might empathise if Loki hadn't been an asshole to Tony at the combine.

At one point the frenzy dies down slightly, and Steve makes his way back towards where he's told his mom and Bucky are waiting. His nerves are a little frazzled and he knows that he will feel better with them close. In fact, it's an instant relief, especially when his mom hugs him again.

"Hey champ! Gosh, everyone wants a piece of you, huh?" she asks, kissing his cheek once more.

"Yeah. But it's okay," Steve says, ending the hug and grabbing a glass from a waiter that passes by them. He'd prefer water, but white wine will have to do to soothe his parched throat. "It will calm down."

Bucky snort-laughs. He's slightly flushed, and Steve would bet he indulged in several glasses of wine of his own. It's great to see him having fun, he's been too serious since the medical retirement a year ago. "I don't think so! You're going to the NFL, man. It only gets crazier from here."

He's surely right, but Steve doesn't want to think about that. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves," he says. "There's a lot between being drafted and actually playing a game for the Avengers."

He has to go to the rookie minicamp, the team practices, then the official pre-season camp, hopefully make the team and not just the practice roster, but those are stresses for a future Steve.

"Speaking of, how do you feel about how your boy Stark was picked by the Avengers, too?" Bucky asks with a sly smile.

That's the very first time Steve has heard of it and he stares at Bucky, shocked.

"What?" Tony is an Avenger too?

"You didn't know?" his mom asks. Steve shakes his head no, still speechless. He's going to be on the same team as Tony?

"Close your mouth, baby, you'll catch flies," Sarah says, tapping his chest.

Steve shuts his mouth with a click, and looks around, searching for red.

Alongside the pure rush of excitement, there is a kernel of panic, too. Steve's crush is bad now, he can only imagine how deep he'll fall if he sees the man every day! But then again… this is great. He likes the guy, they clicked, he couldn't be happier that the Avengers' second pick was Tony. He's an awesome quarterback, and they were perfectly in synch within minutes at the combine. Steve is convinced that they'll help each other make their way onto the team. Suddenly, all that Steve wants is to see Tony and celebrate a little. If he got picked sixth overall, it wasn't that long ago; he must still be in the area with most of the media. It's with a determined stride that Steve makes his way there seemingly with enough purpose that no one tries to stop him for the millionth handshake or selfie of the evening. He finds Tony — thank you, red suit — at the edge of the room.

"Tony!" he calls out.

Tony looks up and smiles when he spots him. "Steve!"

Compounding on his momentum, Steve goes in directly for a hug and is delighted when Tony laughs and immediately hugs back. Oh geez, that feels nice. Tony is solid in his arms, fits just right against Steve, and he smells amazing.

"Congratulations big guy!" Tony says when Steve reluctantly lets him go.

"Thanks, and same to you!" Steve says. Tony scrunches his nose at that with a small grimace which makes Steve pause. "What is it?"

"I got picked sixth. As my dad says, that's being the fifth loser."

Steve scoffs. He knows they are all proud and fierce competitors, but that's ridiculous. "Sixth on what, over 16 000 eligible players in the NCAA alone? Out of millions when we used to play in high school? Sixth is amazing, Tony."

"Still. I can't believe Loki-"

"He's miserable," Steve interrupts, and Tony looks surprised. "He got picked by the Brigade," he clarifies."His dad's old team. Do you have any idea how annoying that will be for him? The expectations he'll face to perform as well as his dad?"

After a slow blink, the corner of Tony's mouth ticks up. "I might have an inkling, yeah."

Strange thing to say, since as far as Steve knows Tony has no family in sports. It's not important, though, as it seems that Steve's improving his mood.

"I swear," Steve adds, leaning in. "I saw him doing an interview and he'd twitch every time someone said 'Odin'."

At that Tony laughs, his shoulders relaxing a fraction. "And the Brigade is a terrible team," he contributes.

"Yeah. At least the Avengers are getting better!" And you'll be with me, Steve can't help but add in his head. "I swear, Tony, they didn't take Loki because he's better than you. They took him because the fans would have crucified the management if they hadn't, especially after not grabbing Thor a few years back."

By their side, the black man who was with Tony in the Green Room nods. It's the friend in the Air Force, for sure. "He's right, Tones. And can you imagine if the Brigade had passed on him and gotten you? You didn't want that constant reminder. The Avengers are a far better fit for you."

Tony smiles at him gratefully. "Yeah, right. Steve, this is my BFF Rhodey," Tony introduces. "Rhodey, this is Steve, the Godfather."

That first position in the draft will be a source of pressure for a long time. Steve realized that somewhere between the fourth and fifth interview that made such a big deal of it. He likes a challenge, though.

"Don't call me that," Steve says, rolling his eyes as he shakes Rhodey's hand. "Hi Rhodey."

"Hi. It's still a big deal, congrats," Rhodey says.

"Thanks."

"Since this big lug has no manners, I'll introduce myself," Bucky says, cutting in and offering his hand to Rhodes, who is closest. "James Barnes, on BFF duty myself."

Steve feels his cheeks heat up. He'd been so happy to find and talk to Tony — and then trying to make him feel better — that he totally ditched Bucky and his mom.

"Ah, hey James," Rodhey exclaims with a grin. "I'm James Rhodes, in fact."

Okay, so that's a fun coincidence. Letting them bond about first names, Steve turns towards his mom, who is — mortifyingly — waiting patiently. Steve is about to open his mouth and be a polite son when Tony steps forward and takes her hand, then closes over it with his second, all charm and warmth.

"Steve never said he'd brought his sister, too! I'm Tony Stark."

He's laying it on thick, but to Steve's surprise his mom doesn't call him on it, much.

"Aren't you the charmer!" She looks honestly amused at Tony's antics. "Sarah Rogers."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Rogers," Tony says, smile genuine. He's so goddamn beautiful, Steve thinks helplessly.

"Sarah, please," his mom answers. "Likewise, Tony."

Steve would love for his mom and Tony to get along... even though it's unrealistic to think they'll interact much, even if him and Tony both make the team. Right now, as they chit-chat, his mom asking where Tony's from — Manhattan, but he moved to California as a child — it feels just right. The adrenaline has left Steve's bloodstream, though, and he's getting pretty hungry.

"Is there food somewhere?" Steve asks, looking around.

His mom laughs. "That's my boy."

"There was some over there," Bucky gestures vaguely towards the direction they came from.

"Yeah? Where's Pepper?" Tony asks, searching the room too. "She knows everything."

"Last I saw her she was conspiring with that Scott dude," Rhodes says.

"My agent?" Steve asks. He hasn't seen Scott since the Green Room, Steve wouldn't be surprised he's up to something.

"Yes," Tony says. "I fear for the Avengers' salary cap in the future, to be honest."

Steve had tried not to think too much about the money, but he knows that he's about to be rich. The year before, first pick got over 35 frigging million, including his signing bonus, for a four year contract with fifth year optional. There is no doubt in Steve's mind that Scott will negotiate for even more, which is huge and boggles his mind.

"I feel like pizza," Steve says, decisive. He can afford pretty much anything he wants now! No more need to hold a job relying on an understanding manager — often an NC State fan — so that his hours fit between classes, practices, training, meetings, and games. Oh hell, he's done with the convenience store, that’s cause for celebration in itself! "Surely someone can find us some pizza?"

"For you?" Tony asks, grinning. "I'm pretty sure you can ask anything you want today, and you'll get it!"

You, Steve's whole being clamors. What I really want is you..

But that's not on offer. So Steve takes a deep breath, straightens up, and smiles the best he can.

"Let's get pizza, then!"

***

 

Getting drafted is one thing. Getting drafted first is, in itself, another. As Steve predicted, it comes with a lot of expectations, and some days he feels as if the world is weighing on his shoulders.

His finals started four days after the draft, so Steve jumped right into his notes and books as soon as he made his way back to Raleigh. Not only would he finish his degree, he wanted good grades too! Yes, he was about to be a multi-millionaire, but Steve would not waste all of his hard work from the last four years.

Steve didn't even have time to take a deep breath after his last final before he had to rush to New York for the three day Avengers' rookie minicamp. He was flown in, picked up from the airport by the Avengers, and immediately checked into a hotel room near the Avengers Complex with the other rookies. It's a total shock when Steve gets assigned the same room as Tony, and he might internally panic a little. However, Tony seems delighted.

"Roommates! Cool!" he says as he takes the keycards from Ms. Hill. "Come on, Big Guy, let's go."

"I want everyone down in the restaurant at six for breakfast, boys!" she calls out as they roll their suitcases towards the elevators.

"Got it!" Tony says, and Steve hurries after him.

God, he's got to play this cool. It will be fine, he has shared rooms with other guys for years, even a couple he found attractive. It's Tony, yes, but they are becoming friends, so he must take this as an opportunity to get to know him better. Nothing more.

"What floor?" Steve asks, hoping his nervousness doesn't show.

"Sixth. Ah, 601," Tony says, looking at him with a smile and a wink as he presses the button. "Coincidence or on purpose?"

Steve laughs. "I'm pretty sure the Avengers don't waste their time selecting rooms that match our drafting position."

"Still," Tony says, looking at the card in his hand. "Pretty cool. As if we're meant to be."

Well, there is little more that Steve would love than that, but he's never been much for superstitions which is rare in sports. Most players see signs everywhere and have a million and one ingrained habits, but Steve's not so bad, in his opinion. He's got his lucky armband, yes, but that's about it.

"As long as you don't snore," Steve quips as they exit the elevator.

"I do not, unless I'm passed-out drunk," Tony says, opening their door.

"No minibar for you, then," Steve says, scanning the room. As he expected it's a standard room with two queen beds, and he rolls his carryon to the side of the bed deepest in the room.

"As if a minibar's content would be enough… But no worries, I'm here to shock and amaze, so no party for me."

"Good, me too," Steve says. He wants to be as rested as possible in order to do his best in the minicamp. If he'll sleep normally while Tony is in a bed three feet away remains to be seen, though.

***

There are fans at the Avengers facilities' entrance the next morning, complete with applause and signs welcoming them to the team. When they step out of the big SUVs the Avengers used to ferry them from the hotel, at least five people are screaming Steve's name, which he never knows how to react to when it happens.

His uneasiness must show, because Tony, by his side, leans in to say: "Just smile and wave!"

It seems easy for him, his own smile wide as he throws up victory signs. "Thanks everyone, happy to be here!" Tony shouts, getting cheers in return.

As the attention of the group shifts to Tony, Steve adjusts his backpack and raises his hand in a salute and smiles too. He focuses on the kids and hopes they are here because they want to be and not because their parents dragged them over. Steve knows that he must get used to the growing fame, eventually, and he hopes it gets easier in time. Within minutes, they are blessedly inside the facilities, though an Avengers camera crew is following them still. That's life in the era of social media: there is no way to escape the lenses that are documenting every minute of their journey. Trying to forget about it, or else he'll look stiff and uncomfortable in every image, Steve focuses on their instructions for the day. It starts by getting a stack of papers with the schedule for the next few months, and they are soon directed to the football gear distribution, near the locker room.

Getting an Avengers baseball cap and some gear on draft day had been nice. Steve has worn them quite a bit in the last few weeks. But being fit with his own helmet with the team's logo, all shiny and beautiful, feels like the real deal. Because of his first place in the draft, Steve gets to try on his equipment first. It's waiting for him with his last name written with big block letters on a piece of tape on the forehead.

"How is that?" Josh - who is in charge of the fitting - asks.

"Feels good," Steve says, holding the chin guard while Josh tightens the straps. "Same brand I had in college."

"Fantastic. Good to go?"

"Yeah," Steve says with a smile. He can't wait to practice again, in fact.

"Welcome to the team!" Josh says when the fitting is done, and they shake hands.

"Thank you!"

They then direct Steve to where he gets his practice jersey and the rest of the gear he'll need. Again he goes first, generally followed by Tony, who was the Avengers' second choice, then Johnny Storm who was third, and so on and so forth. The ranks are closed by the free agents that signed with the Avengers after the draft. It's relaxed and friendly, but there is a clear sense of hierarchy.

"Can you hold the sign please?" the photographer asks when Steve has to get his picture taken.

It's his full name this time, and Steve dutifully holds it up while the photographer takes the first shot, before he has him put the sign away. Steve smiles when asked, then does his serious game face, hoping he doesn't look too much like a fool. He definitely needs to work on getting better at this part of the job, but can't help feeling like a circus monkey as he has to give good soundbites to the team's YouTube crew and other social media people. They even film part of the physical which the team's doctor, Dr. Banner, doesn't approve of judging by his pinched expression.

"Okay, you have your images. Get out of here," the doctor tells the cameramen after he's done with taking Steve's blood pressure and listening to his heart.

"Does everything have to be a show?" he grumbles, closing the door.

"Seems like it," Steve says.

Banner smiles crookedly. "Unfortunately. So, now that we have privacy, how are you doing Steve?"

"I'm great," he says.

"Your shoulder hasn't acted up?" Banner asks, making Steve raise his right arm and move it back and forth.

"No sir. I was all healed up before senior year, as I told you on my team visit." It would be completely crazy to hide an injury at this point, but he figures that the doctor must often deal with players so eager to play that they lie. Steve hasn't felt this good in years, in fact, which is great.

"That's fantastic. Just checking. You went at it hard at the combine and on your pro day," Banner says, now prodding at Steve's left knee. That one will always be a little sore, unfortunately. "Your combine internal medical examinations and orthopedic examinations came out very good, and we want to keep it that way. I'm counting on you to come to me if there's even a twinge, okay?"

"I will," Steve says. "I know better than to workout or play with an untreated injury. I wouldn't want to jeopardize the rest of my season."

"Exactly," Banner says, pointing at him. He tilts his head, squinting suspiciously. "I sure hope you mean that, and are not just saying what I want to hear."

"I mean it," Steve says with a smile.

"Good. My only goal is to keep everyone safe and healthy. Let's finish this, shall we?"

***

Steve is going through the information packet again, making sure that he put reminders for all the important dates on his phone. He's made a name for himself with constant discipline over the years, but frankly it's been no hardship because he just cannot function any other way. He's so focused on the task at hand that he startles when the bathroom door opens.

"Do you think it's normal that there's so little pressure in the shower?" Tony asks as he walks to his suitcase, followed by a billow of steam.

It takes all of Steve's willpower not to whimper at the sight of a damp Tony with only a towel around his waist. He's so gorgeous with his compact but strong build, and for a second Steve allows himself to stare since Tony's back is to him as he rummages in the suitcase.

"I don't know," Steve says before forcing his eyes back to his phone. He doesn't want to be caught staring. "The pressure was a little weak for me, too."

He'd spent a good long while in it just before Tony, where he'd jerked off hoping he could take the edge off his treacherous libido. He's having mixed results with that, clearly.

"Bummer," Tony says.

It's only when Tony crawls on his own bed that Steve allows himself another glance. Tony's in the soft-looking t-shirt he wore to bed the night before, featuring Snoopy with a football helmet. That and boxer shorts, but Steve tries very hard not to look at his perfect ass or he'll definitely make a fool out of himself. It's unfair that Tony is so damn cute while being sexy on top and therefore smashing all of Steve's buttons at the same time. Steve plugs in his phone, then closes the light over his nightstand. It's already ten and he needs all the sleep he can get.

“Would you mind if I worked for a bit?" Tony asks, a hand hovering over his laptop. He had pounced on the computer as soon as they'd made it back to the room, only shutting it closed when he took his shower.

"No, go ahead," Steve says. "I'm sorry, I probably put you behind on your schedule to finish your PhD with all of my questions earlier."

He had been unable to help himself, fascinated to learn about Tony's robot Dum-E and the artificial intelligence project he's working on.

"Are you kidding me?" Tony says with a huge smile. "I love talking about my babies. I'm surprised I didn't bore you to death."

"Never." God, Steve could listen to Tony talk all day, hands flying and passionate. He's so damn smart.

"If it bothers you though, you have to tell me," Tony insists, sitting against his headboard. The computer screen lights him up with a bluish glow that puts his features in stark contrast.

"Shouldn't be a problem, but I'll let you know if it becomes one," Steve says, then yawns as his eyes start to close by themselves. He'd barely slept the night before, nervous about the rookie camp starting and the excitement of seeing Tony again. Being assigned as roommates hadn't helped either. "Good night Tony."

"Sweet dreams, Steve," Tony says.

The rapid clicking of Tony's keyboard lulls Steve to sleep quickly.

***

He knew the competition would be fierce at the rookie camp. Heck, everyone present — drafted or not, and even a couple of established players — wants their spot on the team and are ready to prove their worth to the coaches. For the first time in years though, Steve is wondering if he's fast enough, or even strong enough. The other guys sure are! The Avengers signed an undrafted tight end from Canada that is seriously kicking ass and making Steve nervous. All the linemen are huge and agile, the receivers run like the wind, and the linebackers radiate pure menace. On top of all that, there are a lot of eyes on Steve because of his first place in the draft. Every ball he drops, or block he doesn't get quite right on the dummies, or route he doesn't run flawlessly, feels like a failure.

"Come on," he grumbles to himself before going back in position when the coach calls for it. He's good at this, he just needs to get out of his head and fall back onto muscle memory.

"Alright, let's do the same setup," Fury calls.

Rookie minicamp is off-season training part two, so there is no live contact allowed — heck, no helmets either — and not even drills involving offence and defense playing against each other. But if Steve doesn't prove he can assimilate the basic playbook they've given him, it doesn't bode well for his chances to stay on the team when the veterans join in. Even more than that, if he doesn't do his job well, it isn't doing Tony any favors either. As a rookie quarterback, Tony has even more to prove than Steve to keep his spot on the Avengers as a backup to Coulson, who has been leading the Avengers' offence for twelve years. Steve wants Tony to shine, he has such a great football mind. They studied the playbook together in their room that very morning, quizzing each other, and it was a wonder to see how easily Tony remembered it all.

At the whistle, Steve focuses on his 45 degree route towards the middle of the field, and is rewarded with a perfect pass right into his hands. That one he doesn't drop, and he trots back to the player huddle with a smile that Tony returns.

"There you go," Tony says with a wink and Steve's heart pitter-patters helplessly. God, he's so gone it's not even funny.

"Perfect throw," he replies.

Fury has them run several more drills where Tony is flawless in accuracy, and when Steve finally stops thinking too much he's able to catch all the balls thrown his way. He tends to forget it in moments of stress, but the key to success is the same as it's always been: work hard and do his best.

At last, Steve feels the pressure lessen. Just a bit.

***

When Steve gets back to the apartment he shares with his mother in Brooklyn on Sunday night, he considers going straight to his bed, but that would require more walking (which... no). He drops his backpack right there in the entryway.

"Hey ma, I'm back!" he calls out, before face-planting onto the large couch which takes up half the living room.

It's soft and comfortable and Steve stretches on it with a groan. Yes, this couch was a good investment; he's glad Bucky convinced him to buy it before even finding a new place.

"Steve?" Sarah asks, appearing in the doorway. She's drying a glass with a tea towel and Steve wishes he'd grabbed something to drink before lying down. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," Steve says with a sigh.

Sarah is still frowning. "You didn't hurt yourself, did you?"

"No, no," Steve hurries to reassure. "I'm just tired. It was only three days, but…"

It took a lot out of him, nonetheless. He didn't sleep much because of the rooming-with-Tony situation. That, along with the intense practices and the pressure to show his skills, created a lot of stress. He received good advice from the coaches on what to work on though, and overall he's satisfied with how he performed at the camp. Except for those bad two hours or so during the first practice.

"You need a break, baby," Sarah says, face soft with sympathy.

"I wish," Steve says. He hasn't really taken time off since the ninth grade. When school was done he had to work in between perfection camps and other team activities. "Can't now, though. There are the OTAs first. Then minicamp with the whole team."

Four whole weeks total. Gosh, he's so exhausted he could cry.

"OTAs?" Sarah asks.

"Organized Team Activities. Practices. Ten of them, plus a week with everyone for minicamp."

It had been demanding with just the rookies, so Steve can only imagine how ramped-up it will be with actual pros in the mix. Oh well, he asked for this, didn't he?

"If you want it, I made lasagna," Sarah says.

"God. Yes, please," Steve says, his stomach rumbling. Now that he's paying attention, it smells heavenly in the apartment.

"I'll make you a plate," Sarah says, disappearing into the kitchen again.

"Can I eat it here?" Steve tries with little hope. Maybe he looks pathetic enough, for once.

It doesn't work.

"No eating outside the table, and you know it!"

"Okay. In a minute."

He just needs to peel himself from the couch first.

 

***

Three weeks in and eight OTAs done, Steve is still tired but definitely excited at the chance to practice with NFL players he's admired for years. The play level has increased, of course, and Steve now competes with guys that are not only large, fast, and intimidating, but they are also smart and so competent. They have their helmets now, but there is no live contact or shoulder pads. Since offence against defense drills are now allowed, it’s really starting to look more like real football.

Not all the pros are present for the practices, but most are and Steve has taken to following Thor's lead. The man is a fantastic athlete and always serious in training. Thor is also great at putting everyone at ease and he never makes Steve feel stupid when he asks questions.

As for Tony, Steve had gotten worried when he started outright bickering with Coulson — they have such different personalities — but they seem to get along pretty well. Tony's charm is definitely winning Fury's favor, too. That and how well he's doing in all facets of the practices, of course. It's beautiful to see. More and more Steve catches Tony, Coulson, and Fury gathered around the whiteboard or bent over the playbook, pointing and discussing.

Speaking of Fury's goddamn playbook: it's a nightmare. At least an order of magnitude more complicated than what Steve has ever played before. Fury's using the Erhardt-Perkins system: not only does a certain code sketch out a play concept, each player needs to know what every other teammate on the field is doing on every play, too. That way they can adapt on the fly (and maybe even change positions). With the Wolfpack, Steve had only been a tight end from the moment he made the starting lineup in his sophomore year. With Fury's system they've also given Steve the ball as a running back and sent him on wide receiver routes, something he hasn't done since high school. It works, but it's a lot to assimilate. Studying the playbook, and attending the meetings and practices is all he does, all the time. Fortunately Steve doesn't have to focus on school anymore. Football is his full-time job now. How cool is that?

Fury is wrapping up the morning meeting of their ninth OTA when he pauses, hands on his hips, and surveys the group with a critical eye. He then nods as if he's reached a satisfactory decision.

"We still have tons of work to do," Fury announces, "but I’m happy about the progress we've made in the last three weeks. Enough that I am feeling magnanimous. Therefore this afternoon," he pauses as the expectation builds in the room, "we’re going to EightyNine."

There’s a loud cheer as all the players and support personnel begin whooping and clapping. An afternoon at the arcade — to play games, build team spirit, relax a bit — really sounds like a lot of fun.

They go in buses, where bets and challenges abound.

"I call dibs on Primeval Hunt!" shouts Clint Barton, their star running back.

"Predictable!" is heard from the back, making the veterans laugh.

Steve is sitting with Tony near the front of the bus, not far behind the coaching staff. It's a given that they end up together in every free moment they have now. Not that Steve is complaining. If he's honest with himself, he has to admit that his feelings for Tony are way over the crush phase, and he is definitely and hopelessly pining over the guy. But, more than that, they are becoming friends, which is amazing. So Steve doesn't think for even a second about putting some distance between them. He likes the guy more than romantically at this point and getting to know him is a gift.

"What’s your favorite game?" he asks.

Tony shrugs one shoulder. "I’ve never been to EightyNine. What kind of place is it?"

"It’s been four years for me." Steve remembers it well. He'd been with Bucky and they’d made an outing of it after high school graduation, just before he moved to Raleigh and Buck enlisted. So much has happened since, but Steve would bet that the place hasn’t changed. "They used to have old school machines. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, pinballs; the works. Newer stuff, too."

Tony’s eyes light up. "Ohhhh, cool! I love pinballs. What’s your favorite?"

"I like them too. I hope they still have the Addams Family one. The basketball machine is fun. But what I like best is air hockey, though."

"Oh yeah?" Tony playfully eyes him up and down. "I could take you."

Tony doesn’t mean it like that, but Steve’s mind immediately goes into the gutter. I wish. And I definitely could take you, is his internal reply,

"You are welcome to try," is what he says out loud with a grin of his own. Steve is uncanny good at air hockey. Angles of attack and how to ricochet the puck comes to him naturally, and, admittedly, he gets viciously competitive very fast. Bucky never wants to play against him anymore, it's that bad.

It turns out that the Avengers have booked EightyNine for the afternoon, but also arranged for a group of teens from a local youth center to come along, which makes it an occasion to engage in community service. For that reason, they won't sell alcohol... which is probably a very good idea while they have impressionable company. Some kids are barely younger than Tony and him; it could be weird but is not. They all have an amazing time and, as usual, Tony constantly pulls Steve into his orbit.

"This is amazing. I need one," Tony says as a metal ball shoots out of a motorized Gene Simmons's head, moves down his tongue, and then pings all over the machine. He operates the flippers deftly, sending the ball around for points while 'Lick it up' from KISS plays, adding to the ambient cacophony. By their side, Clint is still shooting dinosaurs on his favorite game.

"You're good." The points are racking up fast, and Steve is mesmerized by how Tony holds himself as he plays, so at ease with the pinball machine.

"Not as great as you at air hockey," he says with a wink and Steve grins. It had been a massacre, and he's kind of proud of it. Even happier that Tony doesn't resent having lost so badly.

"I warned you!"

"Nothing could have prepared me for seeing you so good at double fisting," Tony says, deadpan, and Steve throws his head back laughing. There are moments, like this, when he wonders if Tony is flirting with him or if it's just wishful thinking.

He's about to reply when a shouted "Rogers!" has him turn around, looking for the voice. It's Thor, who follows with his demand. "Bring me and young Christopher popcorn!"

"Yeah, rookies, come on! Stark, get me some too. And sodas with it!" Clint adds.

With a sigh, Tony lets go of the KISS pinball machine and his building score and follows Steve to the snack counter. The rookie hazing is mostly good-natured, but when a veteran asks for something they obey.

"Hey, wanna try Dance Dance Revolution next?" Tony asks as they pass by the game where Peter Quill is putting on a show.

"God no," Steve says with feeling.

"Ohhh, did I finally find something the great Steve Rogers is bad at?" Tony needles.

"Yes," he readily admits. "Please don't do this to me."

He hates that game. Or, to be exact, he detests playing it. He's had lots of fun watching Nat and Bucky challenging each other back in the day.

"Okay, okay," Tony relents, and it's an instant relief for Steve. "I think I saw a Galaga machine?"

"That, I can do," Steve agrees.

 

***

***

If the ninth OTA was an unexpected day off that brought the team closer together, Fury made sure that they worked even harder for the tenth. And that had nothing on the four days of minicamp that came the following week, with all the veterans this time.

At last, however, Steve has a break to breathe. There are three weeks between the minicamp and the start of training camp where Steve takes Bucky and his mother to Hawaii for a well deserved vacation. They stay in amazing hotels and explore paradise at their leisure while having a fantastic time. Steve does train: he isn't able to let years of conditioning entirely go, and feels bad if he doesn't get his daily dose of exercise and endorphins. He mostly takes it easy though, using the hotel's gyms and running on the beach. Sarah gets tired fast and often urges Steve and Bucky to go have fun as she relaxes at the hotel's spa. They even go out clubbing a handful of times. Steve could easily hook up with someone, the offers are there, but he just can't bring himself to do it. He keeps comparing potential partners to Tony, even the girls, and inevitably his interest — if any — fizzles out.

He's just turned down a gorgeous brunette's offer to dance and slipped away onto the terrace to get some air when Bucky joins him, beer in hand.

"What was it this time?" he asks, leaning back against the balcony's rail.

Steve frowns. "What?"

"The reason you told that stunning girl to get lost."

"I didn't tell her to get lost," Steve says, rolling his eyes. "She wanted to dance. I didn't."

"She wanted more than that," Bucky adds, as if Steve was unaware.

"I know."

"Freely offered, without knowing who you are and what your bank account will look like soon."

Steve snorts. "And you think, what? That won't happen after I put on the Avengers uniform?"

"I'm just saying that your days of anonymity are almost over, and you could have had a little fun without expectations," Bucky says.

"I don't want to sound conceited, but I haven't been totally anonymous in Raleigh in three years. If not four."

Sure he'd met people who didn't know of him, sometimes, but it was rare, especially where the students hung around. Bucky has a point, though: it sucked not knowing if the person who flirted with him did it by interest, or just because of who he was. Heck, his only serious relationship in the last four years — even if short — probably only worked because Peggy didn't care one bit that he was a football player.

"I know, hot shot," Bucky says with a smirk. "She was really beautiful."

"That's not the problem," Steve says, and immediately curses in his head, knowing that he just gave Bucky fuel.

"Ah, so you admit it at last. Steve, you've got to let that fixation on Stark go. It's not healthy."

Of course Bucky knows what is going on. Steve sighs dejectedly.

"I know, I know." He's gearing up to either pine after what could never be with Tony, or get his heart broken. Probably both.

"Then either move on or do something about it," Bucky says decisively.

Steve freezes, having not expected the second part. He looks over at Bucky, heart beating a little faster at the mere suggestion.

"Do something about it?" he parrots.

It's Bucky's turn to rolls his eyes, as if Steve is a complete idiot.

"Make a move. Ask him out and see where the chips fall! From what I saw in Vegas, Stark's got an attitude, but I don't think he'd be an asshole about it. And you'd better do it now and know for sure than carry a torch that makes it harder and harder to be around him. If you know what I mean."

He shoves Bucky away, laughing at the bad joke. "Jesus, you're an ass. It was almost mature and touching advice for a moment there."

Bucky laughs. "Totally mature."

Steve put a hand over his phone, tempted to take it out of his pocket and text Tony. He's wanted to for weeks, heck since Tony offered his number in Vegas - but never found the courage. He had thought Tony would maybe text him first, and it had been a big disappointment when the days added up and he never did. He figured Tony got caught in the end of semester craziness like Steve did, and at rookie minicamp they were practically together all the time, being roommates. But Tony never reached out even after that. Not between the OTAs and the minicamps with the rest of the Avengers, or since.

"Whatever you're texting about," Bucky adds, "just add stuff like you're looking forward to see him soon. I know you're shit at flirting, but it ought to be easier in writing, no? I can be your Yoda."

"Absolutely not," Steve protests. Bucky is as subtle as a two by four to the head with his flirting, and that's just not Steve. "And we're not texting?"

"Why the hell not?" Bucky asks, looking perplexed. "I remember that you got all flustered when he punched his number into your phone."

"Shut up." Probably true, though. Steve had been overwhelmed when it happened. "He never texted me after that. So."

Bucky's mouth falls open. "He… You absolute walnut! Of course he didn't!"

"Why?" That makes no sense. It's not like Tony is shy or anything.

"I'm sure you noticed how everyone wanted a piece of you that night? The collection of business cards you got, that you dumped on Scott? He gave you his number with that 'always practical to have a teammate's digits' excuse or however he said it. From then on it was on you."

Could it be? It makes sense, even though the reasoning is ridiculous. Of course Steve would want to hear from Tony. He thought he'd been obvious enough with his enthusiasm about being drafted together! And how he sought him out at both minicamps and during the OTAs! They were roommates, for God's sake… He takes the phone out, pulls up the contact as he's done a hundred times at least, and stares.

You know who I am. (TS ;) )

"Come on," Bucky urges, jabbing his pointy elbow into Steve's ribs.

"It's one am in California," Steve protests. "Four am if he's back in New York."

"So what? It's Saturday night. I bet he's out, too."

That brings forth images of Tony being hit on by beautiful people and not turning them down, which is depressing. And why would he? It's not as if he is pining away like a loser.

Taking a deep breath, Steve types a few lines.

"Hi Tony, Steve Rogers."
"I'm on vacation, but can't wait-" he types 'to see you at the training camp' but loses his nerves, erases a part and ends the text with "- for training camp."
"How are you doing?"

He doesn't expect an answer right away, but Steve's heart speeds up when he sees the messages immediately get a check mark before receiving the notice that Tony is typing.

"Hey, hi! Nice to hear from you!"
"I'm doing good, but preparing for my thesis examination - long days in the lab. Kinda jealous of the vacation! Where are you?"

Bucky punches him in the arm at the pings from the messages with a big grin. He tries to read on Steve's phone, who by force of habit angles it away. Bucky's always been a nosy little shit, and this conversation is his.

"See? What did I tell you!" Bucky exclaims.

"Thanks Buck," Steve says, grinning back. He's giddy just that he gets to text to Tony and wouldn't be without his help. "Now go away."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll leave you to it. I might even try to charm that beautiful brunette for myself. How about that?"

"Have fun!" Steve says, attention back to his phone as he rereads the messages. Tony texted him right away, not even a minute of lag!

"Don't wait up for me!" Bucky singsongs before going back into the hotel's bar.

"Uh huh," Steve says before he types again.

"Maui. It's gorgeous."

"!!!!" answers Tony. "Lucky you, I know it is. Even more jealous now!"

"Been here before?" Steve asks, finding a chair to sit down, getting comfortable.

He might not have the guts to outright flirt with the man, not right this second, but this is easy. It can be a start.

***

He knows it's ridiculous, but Steve is more nervous about seeing Tony again than he is interested in the NFL Rookie Transition Program. It's important stuff, he is aware! It's why the league obligates all the teams to set up the seminars with mandatory topics for every rookie. It covers the NFL league policies, benefits resources, player expectations, social responsibility, mental health, and so on. Steve wants all of that information to make sure he has the tools to succeed in the league. He's heard the statistics: he is aware that 78 percent of players go broke within three years of retirement and over 15 percent file for bankruptcy within 12 years of leaving the league. He plans on being cautious with his money and invest, but still. And then, after those four days with the rest of the 2020 picks and the guys who signed undrafted, it's time for the real training camp with the whole team.

All he can think about, though, is that Tony will be there. That Steve will see him smile in person again instead of having to rely on Tony's Instagram account. Yes, they have texted almost every day since Maui, and it was great, but it just made Steve like Tony even more. He knows that it's impossible to go on like this. Steve can't continue to build on this infatuation forever, and he has to follow Bucky's advice. Of course he hopes that Tony is interested back, but if he's not at least it will force Steve to leave fantasy land and move on.

Steve gets to the Avengers’ facilities, and he has barely set a foot in the conference room where they'll get briefed whenTony appears by his side, a tall coffee in hand. Steve and the other guys he's seen so far are in t-shirts and shorts, but Tony is in black chinos and a fitted white short-sleeved shirt that does wonders to showcase his arms.

"Hi," Tony says, smile wide and just as beautiful as ever. Steve will never get used to how seeing Tony makes him feel like his gut is full of butterflies. Every single time.

"Hi Tony," he replies, hoping that his infatuation is not all over his face. Especially when they hug and Steve's stomach does a triple flip.

"Are you ready for many days of boring meetings before the real deal?" Tony asks, flopping down on the chair next to the one Steve was considering. Steve sits down too, securing their spot side by side while the other eight guys file in.

"It could be interesting," Steve says. As he mused earlier, it's important stuff.

"Eh," Tony says with a shrug. "The agenda looks like the drilling my dad put me through for SI when I was fourteen. Here's to hoping the football spin is worth it," he adds, lifting his coffee in a toast before taking a big gulp of it.

Tony rarely mentions his family or their business, but when he does it's with tension in his shoulders so Steve doesn't prod. He takes his tablet and stylus out instead and gets ready to take notes. Maybe being rich and famous is commonplace for Tony, but it's new for Steve and he's determined to wade in with his eyes wide open.

***

***

He doesn't know about the others, but Steve's mind is buzzing after the first day of the Transition Program. He's confident that he's got a good enough head on his shoulders to make smart investments going forward. Being flashy is not his style, and he's never been materialistic. Steve will take care of his people, sure, but can't imagine that he has leeches around him that will want to exploit his newfound fame and fortune.

The whole part with the image and expectations wasn't specifically on sexual orientation, but rather warnings on unacceptable behavior like domestic abuse or expressing bigoted opinions. It still made Steve uneasy. Yes, there have been a small number of out and proud LGBTQ+ players or recruits in the last few years, but so few. Hopefully, if Steve ever comes out, being bisexual won't hurt his career. He reasons that if he's well established in the league before it's known, that he has already proved what he can do without that label, it will be harder to push him aside.

The first in the team to find out about Steve's interest in men, for better or for worse, will be Tony. As Bucky said, Steve doesn't think Tony will judge if he's not interested back. All through the day, heck, in the last couple of weeks, Steve has rehearsed in his head how he will ask Tony out. He just has to keep it simple and not make a big deal of it (even if it's huge for him). Now would be a good time since they are exiting the compound and Steve's ride hasn't arrived yet. He needs to let it out, finally, and get an answer once and for all. He's twisting himself into knots about it, hands clammy and so distracted he's barely hearing what Tony is talking about, though he forces his focus back.

"My place is close," Tony says, gesturing towards the North. "Not even ten minutes. Where are you at?"

"Brooklyn," Steve says. For the moment, though Scott has hired a realtor to find something else. Steve has to start spending his money - not just on a comfortable sofa - and a property is without a doubt a good investment. Moving near the Avengers' compound would be a good idea, and a way to avoid traffic like there had been this morning. Taking a deep breath, Steve stops stalling and — through a speeding heart — finally jumps on the grenade and starts asking Tony out. "I was wondering, uh," he stutters, then soldiers on. "We get along great? And I, you know, I like you-"

Tony has stopped walking and is smiling at him, eyes sparkling. "Yeah? I thought the same thing."

Even though it's what Steve was hoping for, he's completely surprised. And elated! Tony wants to go out with him too? "Really?"

He cannot stop grinning and wants to punch the air in victory. If they weren't right in front of the Avengers compound, with personnel and teammates around, Steve would do a little happy dance.

"It would be great," Tony says, nodding empathically. "We could help each other out."

Steve's joy dampers immediately. That doesn't seem like the start of a romance, more of a friends with benefits arrangement, which is not what he had envisioned. Shit, Steve didn't think of that, at all, being so infatuated with Tony that he was practically planning the rest of their lives together and not just sex.

"When can you move in?" Tony adds.

"Move in." Steve repeats dully. Friends with benefits, but moving in too? That strikes him as mixed up signals until he realizes that Tony isn't agreeing to go out with him, or even to sex. He thinks Steve wants to be roommates again. "But my mom-" he says weakly, wondering how he can get out of this.

"Of course!" Tony exclaims. "Your mom is more than welcome. There's lots of room."

He even seems excited at the prospect, all but jumping in place, bless his heart. Steve is endeared all over again, but he needs to reassess the situation and see where to go from here.

"I have to talk with her about it?" Steve offers tentatively.

"Yeah, I get that," Tony says, nodding again. "You do that. Tell her I'd love if she moved in, too. No problem."

"Okay. Thanks for the offer!"

Joey has the perfect timing in stopping his taxi right by Steve's side. He opens the door and slides in, happy to escape. "See you tomorrow!" he tells Tony with excess cheer.

"Okay, bye!"

Steve closes the door and groans loudly, hitting his head on the backrest several times as soon as he's sure Tony won't see it. How did he get himself in such a mess?

"What is the matter, son? Rough day?" Joey asks. Steve has known the old taxi cab driver all of his life since he's an old family friend.

"Yes and no. Lots of talking." And failure to communicate, too.

"You've got this," Joey says.

"I- I am not so sure about that," Steve says with a weary sigh. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes, quietly freaking out. He's so fucked.

***

"Please?" Steve begs. He convinced himself on the way home that as roommates he would have at least parts of Tony, even if it wasn't what he wished for.

His mom is shaking her head, but her smile is sympathetic. "Steve, you know this is a terrible idea."

Steve knows that. He will get his heart crushed sooner rather than later. But… "He looked so happy at the idea?"

It has to mean something, right? That Tony wants to have Steve and his mom around?

"Oh, sweetheart," Sarah says, cupping Steve's face. "You have such a big heart. I'm not saying that living with Tony is a bad idea, but not under false pretenses. You've got to tell him that there has been a mix up. How you feel about him."

"I know," Steve admits, defeated.

"Go see Tony."

"I'll talk to him tomorrow before the lectures start." It's not ideal, but dragging it out would be worse.

"Why not tonight?" Sarah asks. "It's barely seven. Call him. Meet up, clear the air. You might be surprised at the result."

She and Bucky have been telling him relentlessly that they are sure Tony likes him back.

"You really think so?" Steve asks.

"Yes. But even if I am wrong, and it's not romantically? This boy adores you."

The thing is… Steve believes that. Tony likes him, at least as a friend. He deserves the truth; they both do.

"Okay, fine. I'll call him."

***

"I don't know why I brought you with me," Steve grumbles when he catches Bucky grinning in the shiny surface of the elevator's wall.

"For moral support?" Bucky says, but ruins any illusion of it by snickering.

"Oh, shut up."

Bucky laughs outright at that. "But this is priceless! Only you, Steve. Only you would try to ask a guy out and he'd think you want to be roommates again."

"Yeah, well, we're almost there so hush." The elevator is slowing down and stops when it reaches the 16th floor.

There is a small corridor with two doors outside the elevator, and one labeled as an emergency exit.

"He's got the whole floor?" Bucky whispers.

"I don't know," Steve says. Maybe there's another elevator on the other side of the building?

Steve knocks on the door and soon a grinning Tony throws it open. His expression dims for a second at seeing Bucky, but he gestures for them to enter.

"Hi guys. Come in, come in!"

The apartment is beautiful and luxurious, featuring a vast open plan living room and dining room with polished wooden floors. There is also a modern kitchen to the side that seems a study in style, with a dark quartz counter, glass cabinets, and steel appliances. It's like stepping into a spread for a decorating magazine, and yes, Tony does have the whole floor judging by the wall of windows on one side and the doors that must lead to the multiple bedrooms on the other.

"Come over. Let's go see the balcony!" Tony urges as they cross the sunken living room.

Bucky catches Steve's eye as they pass near the entertainment center and mouths a silent 'wow!'. It's impressive. The TV must be 75 inches, for sure, with at least three consoles hooked up to it, plus a precarious-looking tower of games next to them.

"Isn't it great?" Tony says as they step onto what Steve would call a private terrace and not a balcony. There's a set of chairs with plush-looking cushions, but also a bar, a big barbecue grill, and a huge hot tub with vapor plumes drifting in the cool evening air. "The Jacuzzi has awesome massage jets," Tony adds, pushing buttons that make the water stir vigorously and colored mood lights come on.

Steve doesn't doubt the hot tub is great for one second. He also can only imagine the torture of sharing it with Tony and having to stay five feet apart just to be sure that the heat doesn't go to his head and he does something stupid.

"It's awesome, man," Bucky says, dipping a hand in the spa and making Tony beam in return. Bucky knows that Steve is here to refuse Tony's offer and he's not helping at all right now.

"You know that you can move in with Steve and Mrs. Rogers too, right?" Tony tells Bucky, taking Steve by surprise, although in retrospect it was to be expected. "I mean, I have rooms, five bedrooms total, so if you want one or, or-" His smile turns stiffer when he adds, "-or if you'd be sharing with Steve? That would be cool. All cool."

Steve doesn't know how to decode that uneasiness. Is it that Tony is uncomfortable with gay roommates, or afraid of their reaction since he's suggesting that they could be?

"What? Shack up with Steve?" Bucky looks appalled. "Ugh, no. He's like my brother."

Tony immediately relaxes, and again Steve doesn't know how to interpret it. "Sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"It's all right," Bucky says, gesturing the remark away. "No offense taken."

"Still," Tony says, walking back into the apartment by a sliding door at the end of the patio. "This is my room. Don't look at the mess, I'll clean it up as soon as I'm done upgrading Dum-E."

There are several screens with blueprints and parts of motherboards and other electronic metal bits scattered around the room, even on the bed. In a corner is the articulated arm on wheels that Steve recognizes as Tony's favorite project. He walks over to it and reaches out, caressing the strut. The robot whirs, claw turning towards Steve with an inquisitive noise that makes him smile.

"Hey Dum-E! I've heard lots about you."

Dum-E chirps excitedly, bobbing up and down.

"Don't say that, it will go to his head," Tony says, mock scolding.

Steve marvels at the way Dum-E leans into his hand, like a pet. Bucky has approached too, and he grins when the robot peers at him.

"You built him, Stark?" Bucky asks, reaching out as one would do for a dog. Dum-E gently touches his palm, chirping.

"Yeah," Tony says. "I know he doesn't look like much -"

"Hush," Steve interrupts. He doesn't like when Tony denigrates his work like that, plus he feels bad for the robot overhearing it all. "He's amazing. Tony programmed Dum-E with a learning artificial intelligence."

"Very cool," Bucky says.

Tony preens, as does the robot, and it's incredibly cute.

"So, as I said, I'll clean it up when I'm done, don't you worry. There is very, very good sound proofing both in the building, so we don't hear the neighbors, but also between the different rooms. You know. If I'm working, or if, um, in case of anyone bringing someone home. Wouldn't hear a thing."

That is what finally makes Steve snap. Imagining Tony with someone else while Steve pines without ever confessing is unthinkable. He has to come clean, if only to cling to the last of his sanity.

"Tony, I can't." It comes a bit too quiet, so he turns to Tony and looks him square in the eyes. He's done being a coward about this. "I can't move in. I don't want to be your roommate."

As he feared, Tony looks hurt and dejected. "No?"

"Annnd, that's my cue," Bucky says, backing out the room. "I will be… elsewhere."

Tony doesn't even react to Bucky's exit, still staring at Steve in confusion. "But you said-"

"I said I liked you," Steve interrupts, because that's the truth and he wants to make sure that Tony knows it. It's not a rejection, not like he's imagining. "I was trying to ask you out. On a date."

Apart from widening eyes and an almost jaw drop — clearly he didn't see that one coming — Tony doesn't move or answer. It's awkward and Steve feels his cheeks burning in embarrassment.

"I- I don't even know? If you like men?" Tony being still frozen in shock is too much for Steve. He has to leave. "I'm sorry if this is uncomfortable for you. I'll go."

He pivots for the door, almost crashes into Dum-E, but before he can make his escape Tony finally speaks up.

"Wait wait wait," Tony says urgently. He catches Steve's wrist and immediately lets go, but it's enough to stop Steve in his tracks and have him turn around wearily. Tony is examining him intently, as if trying to read Steve's thoughts through his eyes. "You don't want to be my roommate?"

Steve voices his rebuttal as softly as he can. "No."

He'd love to share his life with Tony, if it works out between them, but not as roommates.

"But you'd want to date me?" Tony asks. He's still scanning Steve's face, as if the answer is of critical importance.

Dating Tony is what Steve yearns for, probably even more than making the Avengers' final roster. Okay, honestly those are two different things that Steve wants more than anything, and he doesn't see why he'd have to choose. He's therefore firm and confident when he answers.

"Yes."

Tony's face goes through a journey in a few seconds, from inquisitiveness to relief and finally what looks a lot like elation. He also marches forward, pushing Steve against the wall right next to the door.

"Thank god," Tony says fervently, plastered against him now, so close he must be able to feel Steve's heart is trying to beat out of his chest. "I don't want us to be just roommates either. I definitely want you to move into my bed, though."

Steve laughs as the tension breaks, bubbly with joy that Tony wants him back.

"I might not be opposed to the occasional sleepover," he banters.

Who is he kidding? Steve longs to fall asleep with Tony in his arms and wake up to his face every morning. But he knows that he's already getting ahead of himself here. They need to get to know each other first, see if they fit romantically and otherwise, and see about cohabitation much later.

Steve finally allow himself to reach out, his hands fitting just right on Tony's hips. What is even better is that Tony throws his arms around Steve's neck and is blatantly looking at his lips.

"Sleepovers sound fantastic," Tony says, a hand now resting at Steve's nape and leaning in.

Their first kiss is soft and sweet, making Steve's heart do a triple flip. He circles Tony's back with his arms, bringing him even closer. It's wonderful and tender, unhurried, and everything Steve could have hoped for. He's dreamed of this, of the smooth give of Tony's lips and the scratch of his beard, but it's so much better in reality. The promise of heat and passion is already simmering under Steve's skin, especially when the kiss deepens. He gasps when Tony tightens his fingers in Steve's hair, pushes him even more firmly against the wall and grinds.

"Oh god," Steve says, and he can't help a desperate moan when Tony presses a thigh between his. He's already hard and so, so turned on that there's nothing else of importance but every inch where they are touching.

"You drive me nuts," Tony says, kissing Steve's jaw, then his throat. They're moving against each other, the sweet friction a bliss. "I want you so much!"

"Tony!" It's a cry and a demand as Steve pulls on Tony's shirt to untuck it from his pants. He has to touch him, right now, and groans when he gets to soft skin and the defined muscles of Tony's back.

Following Steve's lead, Tony opens Steve's cargo shorts, which is such a fantastic idea. He wants those amazing hands on him, yesterday. "Yes, yes, please!"

"Your great soundproofing only works if you close the goddamn door!" Bucky says from not that far away, his annoyed voice intruding into their bubble.

Steve doesn't have have the mind power or any interest for anything that is not Tony at the moment.

"Go away!" he orders.

It's like Tony doesn't even hear Bucky, or doesn't care that he's right by the door. He shoves his hand in Steve's underwear to grab his cock, making him gasp.

"Oh, god, yes!" It feels so, so good.

"Damn. You're big all over, aren't you?" Tony purrs, voice gravelly.

"Jesus, Stark. What the hell? You couldn't wait thirty seconds? You can bet I am leaving. I am so out of here," Bucky says, stomping away.

"Bye-bye Bucky!" Tony singsongs, raising his voice so that Bucky hears him. Or at least it seems that way.

"You… You did that on purpose," Steve realizes. "Let him hear- that." The dirty talk, but also Steve falling apart. If he wasn't sex stupid at the moment, he'd probably be embarrassed or even mad about it.

"Yeah. Sorry, sorry," Tony says, pressing apology kisses under his jaw. "I thought he was your boyfriend for a bit. I was so jealous."

"Bucky's as straight as they come," Steve reassures. "But please don't do that again."

"Okay, yeah. That was not cool. I'm sorry."

"This isn't a game to me," Steve says, cupping the side of Tony's face in his hand. He adores how he leans into it. "I want this, and I want you, but it's not for show."

It makes Tony smile again, sheepish. "Not into exhibitionism, got it. Do you want to stop?" He's starting to pull his hand out of Steve's pants, who stops that nonsense immediately by pushing his hips towards Tony.

"No way."

Not when he's got Tony right there where he wants him, at last. Tony beams at him and leans in for a kiss that ends up being as filthy as one could hope for.

There's more groping and then Tony is moving them towards the bed where they fall down, still kissing. Steve is perplexed when Tony grunts and starts wiggling, twisting an arm behind his back, but it's to fish out a pair of pliers he was lying on. Right, there was stuff on the bed, he hopes Tony didn't hurt himself.

"Oh, are you okay?" Steve asks, pushing up to free Tony.

"I'm fine," Tony says, grabbing a fistful of Steve's t-shirt and dragging him down. "And you're not going anywhere."

"I don't intend to." Steve sweeps down to kiss him again, deep and hungry.

With movements made clumsy by impatience, they undress each other and throw any remaining tools or electronics on the floor. Steve is enthralled by every sound he brings out of Tony, by the softness of his skin, by how good he smells and tastes. His own skin is buzzing — Tony's touch is electric — and the pleasure is building up and up, threatening to swallow him whole. They fit together seamlessly, in synch here as much as if not more than when they are on the field. It's a thousand times better than what Steve could have wished for.

"Fuck, Steve, I won't last," Tony says when Steve grinds down and presses their erections together. He's gripping Steve's upper arms, hips lifting for better friction.

"Me neither." Steve is so keyed up he's surprised he hasn't lost it yet.

"It feels so good, I-" Tony stops to keen when Steve bites his neck, and it's glorious.

He wants to take Tony apart, see how much pleasure he can wring out of him, but they're both so far gone already. Steve's feeling the coil tightening in his belly announcing his orgasm, almost out of control.

"You're beautiful," he tells Tony. He's thought so for years, but like this? Flushed with arousal, pupils blown wide and pink mouth panting as if Steve is stealing his breath, Tony is absolutely gorgeous.

"Touch me, come on," he demands, rolling his hips in counterpoint to Steve movements.

"Yeah, all right. I've got you," Steve says. He leans on one forearm, pushing on his knees to gain the leeway to grab his and Tony's cock at the same time.

"Oh, fuck!" Tony shouts, arching against him.

The sensation of his own hand and Tony's hard dick against his own takes Steve's breath away too. It's so, so good, that he can't help but snap his hips forward to seek more. They're both dripping precome, which helps the glide, and Steve jacks them off in earnest. He'd like to tease, take his time, but he can't.

The rush of sensation is so intense, there's no stopping his release now. He's chanting Tony's name again and again, with yeses and praise, going up and up until he reaches the tipping point, falling into pleasure in free fall. He comes with a shout, his whole body locking up for a handful of seconds that feel like heaven. The sensation is barely fading out when he sees Tony reach his orgasm, too. Face slack with ecstasy, he adds his come to the mess Steve already made on Tony's belly and chest. Steve thinks a new word should exist to describe how breathtaking Tony is in this moment. It's beyond gorgeous, for sure. Stunning may be adequate.

Steve lets himself fall half on Tony and half off, his arm giving up. God that was good. He must zone out for a few minutes, high on endorphins, because the next thing he's aware of is that Tony's wiping them down with something. Steve then stretches his arm as they rearrange until it's around Tony's shoulders, keeping him close.

It's been a long time since Steve has been so happy, and he feels as if he'll burst with it. It's like a dream, to not only reach his professional goal and be on the cusp of making his way into the NFL, but to hold the guy he's been daydreaming about for months in his arms.

"Nice to know we have chemistry everywhere," Tony says against Steve's pec.

"Yeah." That was spectacular, for sure. Steve cards his fingers in Tony's hair, who makes an appreciative humming noise.

"I don't know about you, but I want to do that again," Tony says, looking up to meet Steve's eyes, a playful smile on his face while his fingers trail down Steve's stomach.

He thought he was completely spent, but arousal stirs in Steve's gut. He's pretty sure he's addicted to Tony already.

"Is that so?" Steve says, capturing the questing hand and bringing it up by Tony's head as he rolls on top again.

Tony laughs, bright and beautiful. "I didn't mean right now, but I am intrigued."

Steve bends down to mouth at Tony's neck, then starts licking and biting his way down his beautiful body. He revels at the gasp of sucking a nipple brings out of Tony.

"Yeah, okay. Now is good," Tony says, straining upwards to get closer.

"Now is good," Steve agrees. "Tomorrow too. And any time after that is great with me, too."

"Sounds awesome," Tony says, voice breathy as Steve continues his path towards Tony's cock that he sees twitch. They've got time, no need to rush. "Just to check though, because I get those things wrong sometimes," Tony adds. "Is it just us? Or not?"

Pausing on his path to a blowjob, Steve slides back up to hover over Tony while examining his face. His big brown eyes are wide and nervous, which reassures Steve that they're probably on the same page about where they want this to go.

"If you're asking me what I want, it's you. It's been just you for a while."

Tony immediately relaxes, smile brilliant. "Excellent."

"Yeah?" Steve confirms, so happy to hear it, and Tony nods eagerly.

"Of course." Tony's expression turns teasing. "I assure you, there is-"

Steve puts a hand on Tony's mouth, because he suspects what he will say. "You better not finish this sentence with 'there is no other tight end for me', or help me god…"

Tony giggles and Steve looks heavenwards. "Why?" He playfully laments and rolls onto his back, covering his face with his arm while Tony laughs harder. "How many times must I hear this lame joke?" It takes every ounce of acting he has in his body to pout and look discouraged instead of smiling too.

"Aww," Tony coos while cuddling his side, kissing his shoulder and petting his chest in apology. "I'm so sorry, baby." No lie, Steve's heart skips at the endearment (he likes it a lot). Tony continues. "That was unimaginative of me. Forgive me? In my defense, I didn't even say it out loud."

"Because I stopped you."

"You did. What about we never, ever hint at shop talk when off the field?"

Steve hums, but keeps his eyes hidden. He likes that Tony's cajoling him and how playful they are. One of his fears about confessing his feelings to Tony was that it would make things more complicated between them, but it seems just as easy as ever.

"I don't know," he says slowly. "I enjoyed studying the playbook with you."

"Yes, that was cool. I liked that too," Tony admits, rubbing his chin on Steve's chest. He really is like a big cat, and Steve loves it. "No shop talk in bed, then?"

He raises his arm and peers at Tony, who bats his eyelashes at him, using his charm on top of reason to win him over.

"What if I find it hot when you call the shots?" Steve asks.

It's true, too: Tony's very sexy when he takes charge.

"Is that so?" Tony purrs. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but it looks as if his pupils widen and his smile sharpens, too. "I can do that for you, Big Guy. Tell you exactly how to move and where I want you. I'll take good care of you, you'll see."

It makes a shiver of anticipation go down Steve's spine. He has absolutely no doubt about it. "You're forgiven, then."

"Good, good. Thank you baby," Tony says, leaning in for a kiss that turns intense and wet in seconds.

Yeah, Steve's good for a second round, no problem. He wants Tony so much, it's like a yearning deep in his gut. Tony eventually pulls away and they are both panting.

"Did I tell you that you drive me crazy?" Tony says, eating him up with his eyes.

"Same," Steve says, finding Tony's ass and groping.

"Joke aside, I'm serious about this, okay? About us?" Tony's solemn, as if it's of critical importance that Steve believes him. It makes Steve wants to hold him and never let go. "I know what's been said about me, but-"

"I believe you. Me too, Tony."

"Do you want to be out?" he asks, cocking his head.

Wow. The hard questions come out early and Steve stills, apprehensive. He's not sure there is a good answer to that. He doesn't want to hide, he's not ashamed of starting something with Tony, but he dreads having spotlights on him about that, too.

"I don't know if I'm ready..." he says carefully. What if Tony wants to, though? Steve doesn't want to give the wrong impression that Tony will be his dirty secret. "What about you? Is it important to you? Because if it is, sure-" He could do it, if it's with Tony.

"Shhh, relax," Tony says softly, kissing his cheek. "There's no rush. But one day, I'd like to."

"Me too." What a novel thing it would be to be free to shout that he loves Tony from the rooftops? He'd like that a lot.

Tony's smile is so sweet as he caresses a lock of Steve's hair off his forehead. "Awesome. That's all I'm asking for. That and just… no beards, please?"

"What?" Steve would never do that. It's so dishonest that the mere idea makes him sick. He's certainly not interested in faking it with a friend of his, and the idea of Tony doing it too is just as disturbing. "Of course not!"

"Thank god," Tony says with a relieved sigh, leaning his forehead against Steve's. "I can't go through it again, even for you."

There's a story there, and it makes Steve itch to punch whoever forced a charade like that on Tony.

"I would never," he promises. "I just want to earn my spot, first? It's cowardly, but it's all so much, and if I get cut and no one wants me-"

Tony silences him with a kiss. "Shhh, shhh. I get it and it's the same for me. I don't think it's a good time right now. I won't pressure you, okay? It's just as bad as the other way around."

"In a perfect world, it wouldn't matter," Steve says, frustrated.

"In a decent world," Tony says with a shrug.

"Yeah, in a decent world," Steve agrees. Life is unfair like that. "I lo- uh, I like you so much, Tony. Bucky knows. My mom knows. I'd tell everyone in a heartbeat."

"Me too. I got lucky." Tony's expression turns teasing again. "And don't think being my boyfriend means that I'll throw you the ball more! No preferential treatment!"

Boyfriend! Tony called them boyfriends! Which is what the whole evening was leading towards, but it's still a relief and a joy all the same.

"Pffft," Steve dismisses with a grin. "Like you will even have a say in the plays. We both know you'll throw the ball at whoever Fury says you have to."

"I resent that," Tony says, bringing in a pillow and trying to hit Steve in the head with it. "You are absolutely right, but no need to say it!"

Steve laughs, then wrestles the pillow out of Tony's hand and throws it on the floor before bringing him into a kiss. They'll be fine, Steve is sure of it. Having Tony is all that Steve asked for, after all.

 

***

***

At long last, a real football game.

It's the first preseason game; not one that counts, but it's in the Avengers' stadium, against another team, before the fans, and with referees. Definitely not practices or scrimmages anymore. This is the best time for Steve and Tony to show what they can do, and to prove that they deserve a spot on the Avengers' 53 player roster. They have a short four weeks left to cement that statement loud and clear: in the game today, and through the other three that are scheduled before the season.

As a first draft pick, and with how well he's been integrating since, Steve is confident that he'll earn his spot. Fury might grumble under his breath throughout the practices, but he's let Steve know that he's doing well. Speaking of people having Fury's favor, Coulson is having an excellent preseason, too. It's great for the Avengers since an experienced quarterback is precious. But it also complicates things for Tony, who needs to convince Fury that he's got what it takes to be the second or third QB at only 19 years old.

They are facing the Brigade today. They've played aggressively all evening, and it's a tight game the Avengers are currently losing. Steve has more and more play time as the clock advances, and he's doing well so far. The hits are very hard, though.

Coulson has directed the Avengers offence for the entire first half, and in the second Fury gives Tony reps. It's a great opportunity, and Steve is happy that Tony finally has some snaps because he was growing impatient on the sidelines. The Brigade have chosen Loki to start the game, and he’s done well so far, which Steve knows is bothering Tony. They've been rivals for so long, it's clear that Tony is envious. Whatever damage control Steve will have to do to soothe his surprisingly insecure boyfriend has to wait, though. Right now, they have a football game to win.

Tony relays the first play of the drive and they get in position. As soon as the ball rises, Steve rushes forward and feints. It doesn't work: the defensive end on the other side grabs Steve's shoulders and pushes, before letting go quickly enough that it's not a holding. It veers Steve off course as he stumbles, and he misses his mark. With limited options, Tony gives the ball to Clint, who barely makes one yard of gain since there are too many men in the box.

"Alright. I'm told to change it up," Tony says in the huddle.

It's a singleback formation with three wide receivers who take off running full speed as soon as it's allowed. This time Steve does reach the desired spot the play called for on the field that would give them a first down. But Sam is free, too, and Tony does a perfect five step drop, then throws him a beautiful thirty yard pass that has the crowd roaring when complete.

"That was beautiful, Stark!" Sam says with a grin when they meet him down the field for the next huddle.

"Indeed! Let's keep it up," Thor adds as Steve allows himself a quick rub of Tony's back. Heck, right now he could pat his ass and no one would be the wiser, but they're trying to be subtle and not overdo the touching.

Tony goes from a wide smile to his usual focused game face as he looks at the bench for instructions. They are first and goal now, at the 7th yard line; a touchdown would put them in the lead, as they are trailing the Brigade 17-21.

The importance of getting those points makes Steve think too much and he misses his next block. He's not infallible, it's something that happens, but Steve curses himself when the defensive end who owned him pierces the pocket. He's fast and determined, aiming for Tony like a deadly heat-seeking missile. Tony tries to run away, but unfortunately it ends in a QB sack for a loss. Shit shit shit, Steve repeats in his head on a loop, but Tony gets up from under the big guy and seems unhurt, though annoyed.

For the second down and with now fifteen yards to reach the end-zone, it's a passing play again. The sack has shaken Tony because he throws too fast, a wobbly and incomplete pass.

As Steve goes back to the huddle, he grabs Tony's face mask to look at him in the eyes.

"Hey. Earlier, that was on me. But they won't blitz again," Steve promises.

Tony rolls his eyes. "Do your job, go where I call, and it will be peachy."

Even with the dismissive words, Tony still has a grateful smile that Steve returns.

"Yeah, you've got this. Just like in practice."

There's a crowd, they are on TV, the refs are ready to whistle, and Fury is yelling about getting on with it already. It's not like practice at all.

"Right. Right," Tony says with a nod.

"Are we playing football or not, rookies?" Clint asks.

"Yeah, yeah. Gather round gentlemen. Here's what we'll do."

Tony calls the play he got from Fury — shotgun formation, where one option is a pass to Steve — and the ball lifts.

It's not practice, but this time the stars align (aka everyone does their job). It's easy, so easy, for Steve to get around the linemen, run his route, and place his hands, catching the ball. Rumlow, a linebacker that had given him trouble in the NCAA, is on his tail but Steve outruns him and crosses the goal line. The crowd roars and Steve raises his arms in the air, ball still in one hand. Hell yes! His first touchdown, though it's not regular season and won't count. First for Tony, too, and it feels so right. Steve is so happy he can't stop jumping around.

"Touch down!" the ref calls and Steve laughs as he's rushed by his teammates, including a whooping Tony.

"What did I tell ya, huh? You've got this!" Steve tells Tony, arm hooked around his neck.

It's a good thing they have helmets and facemasks, because without them he'd be tempted to kiss him, here in front of God and everyone.

"No, we've got this," Tony replies with the biggest smile.

"We do."

Together, they can do anything.

And this is only the beginning.

 

The End